Thursday, October 18, 2007

Drugs in Thailand

Note: This article is by far and away the most popular article on my blog. For everyone who came here by doing a google on "drugs in Thailand", please read carefully about the number of arrests, the penalties and the "war on drugs" in Thailand.

It must be easy to do drugs in Thailand. I mean, you've got all those full moon parties, backpackers and great night life. The police seem to be pretty easy going. I beat the weed is cheap too. It must be no problem, right?

Think again. No wait, go and read "The Damage Done" by Warren Fellows. Then think again.

Drug suppression and law enforcement
Thailand carries the death penalty for drug trafficking.
Many social structures in Thailand share some resemblance to their British counterparts. This not just coincidence. Thailand has a long history of scholarly links to England, in the past many members of Thai royalty have received their schooling within British shores.

One area of similarity is law, especially policy on drug suppression and jurisprudence. Yet the enforcement and penalties used by the two nations tell a different tale.

The most obvious difference in drug laws is the death penalty. In Thailand, possession of category one drugs "for the purpose of disposal" carries the death penalty, although this has not been used since 2004. The Narcotics Act is vague about category one drugs, simply stating "dangerous drugs such as Heroin".

Rehabilitation counselling is also mandatory in Thailand for all categories of drugs, so even a weed smoker would have to attend a course.

In the UK, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. This is usually reserved for those who carry "class A" drugs with intent to supply. The Home Office is clearer about what drugs are class A: Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack, magic mushrooms, amphetamines (if prepared for injection). Amphetamines have just been upgraded from class B to class A . I'd be grateful to anyone who can tell me what this drug is graded as in Thailand?

Thailand uses its regular police to fight narcotics traffickers but it has a special office - The Office of Narcotics Control Board - to do so. It also has a money laundering agency (AMLO). To my knowledge the UK has no dedicated office with the exception of Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. (The UK utilises the Home Office for most of its anti money laundering measures)

Thailand's Narcotics Act specifies that a "competent official" ( defined as "any official appointed by the minister for execution of the act", so therefore all police officers I guess) has the right to question, detain, search the premises , search the person, and seize any drugs or any "properties used to commit an offence" when dealing with a drugs suspect. The law also stipulates the officer must act in "good faith", give his reasons for suspicion and record the event.

The UK law is remarkably similar. The 2005 Drugs Act gives police power to question, search and detain suspected drug dealers, though the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence) act is clearer about the duties and responsibilities of the officer and also the conditions of the detention area.

Enforcement in practice

On the surface the legal framework seems nearly identical, however in practice, things are different. Firstly, Thailand's police have faced long and frequent accusations of abuse of power. A foreign teacher was recently arrested and sent to prison for possession of cannabis. He was smoking in his own apartment and was set up by a former girlfriend in a sting operation. He was later told that the cannabis seized from him by police had a ninety five percent chance of being re-sold by the police. I stress this is what I was told, I am not suggesting it is true.

Secondly, due to its proximity to the Golden Triangle and to ethnic resistance groups that supply drugs for weapon funds, Thailand has a greater volume of drug trafficking around its shores. The availability of drugs may be greater, but the frequency of raids and swift punishments is also greater.

Accountability: Don't expect the Thai police to go easy on you
Thailand has no Police Complaints Commission or anything similar to the UK version. There have been frequent calls for more control or accountability of the police and attempts at reform have been frequent. However, these efforts have always been heavily resisted. Three scholars at Thailand's top university once published a popular analysis of Thailand's illegal economy and stated "The police are unlikely to suppress activities with which they are heavily involved" (Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, Treerat, 1998)

How many people get busted?

It's hard to make a statistical comparison of drugs related arrests in Thailand and the UK. The best I can tell you is that in Thailand, the number of drugs related arrests was 215,209 in 2002 , 102407 in 2003 and 58,853 in 2004.

The most up to date figures I can acquire for the UK put the figure at 134,101 for 1999 and 124,345 for 2000.

No doubt the figure for 2002 and the sudden drop in 2003 and 2004 in Thailand jumped out at you. There is a reason for this: War on Drugs.

Thailand's war on drugs

In 2003 then PM Thaksin Shiniwat instigated the war on drugs. Thaksin claimed to be doing this in response to a speech from His Majesty The King who called for a solution to the methamphetimine problem that had been plaguing Thailand.

Thaksin cut a fantastic speech announcing the campaign as he explained clearly and forcefully that whoever was dealing with drugs, wherever they were, they must be dealt with. He repeatedly explained that funds and resources would be available to eradicate drugs in all districts. The speech was inspiring.

Then the hell began. Over the next three months , two thousand people died. Concerns about the police force were already widespread, now that same force was told to produce results or face the consequences. Suddenly, hundreds of alleged small time drugs dealers were shot dead, each time with a small packet of amphetamine found on their person. The police almost unerringly announced it was "silence killings" meaning one dealer shooting another dealer to prevent grassing.

The scariest thing about the war on drugs was the strength and vitriol behind some of the public speeches concerning the war on drugs and its heavy death toll.

It's difficult for me to write too much about this. See here for more.

So the message is, if you think Thailand is an easy place to get high, think again. The drug laws are strict, the penalities stricter and the enforcement agencies do not make allowances for foreigners.


Anonymous said...

I've always wondered about trust between the dealer and foreign or wealthy customer. In most countries, if you get busted, there is usually an incentive to help the police bust your supplier in their effort to get to the source. So all drug suppliers must trust their customers to some degree. The way I figure, in Thailand, especially for foreign or wealthy purchasers of drugs, there is a big risk from untrustworthy dealers.

The basic scenario: you buy a small bag of pot from your dealer on soi wherever every now and then. One day your dealer gets in trouble with gambling debt or police problems and needs quick relief. The next time you show up, a policeman steps out of the shadows as soon as the deal is made. The policeman offers you a choice: go to jail, or give him all your money plus whatever you can get from your ATM. You take the offer and the cop and dealer split the cash. Woe to the foreigner who is not as wealthy as the stereotype, as the cop may just decide to book you for his trouble.

It may sound contrived, but I see no reason whatsoever why some variant of this scenario should not happen all the time. This is really exactly the same as the commonplace traffic bribery racket. There are many variations on the basic theme.

Foreigners (and wealthy Thais) are very vulnerable to being "shook down" in this way. Unless you are family or you are certain your dealer would not sell you out when he gets in a tight spot, it is unsafe to develop a relationship with a dealer, even for casual use.

Anonymous said...

yeah its true. The boys in brown (Thai police) don't get paid much so shaking down drug users is lucrative. It is best to buy your way out early because the more police are involved then it costs more.. Don't let them take you back to the station or it will get expensive...

Its best to drink beer or buy small amounts of weed.. Be very careful. A lot of people just go to a connected Thai friends place or hilltribe village and pay to smoke opium. That way the foreigner is never in possession but even that is dangerous because the BiB can piss test anyone at the drop of a hat... fortunately they mostly test for amphetamines or what they locally call "Ya Ba" which means medicine crazy.

plumberpete said...

My brother just got arrested in Bangkok, he had been there a week and was in a bar where he was offered some cannabis to buy which he stupidly bought when he was drunk. Withing minutes there was a "raid", the police came straight to him, searched him, found the 2 grams of weed and said he would have to pay £400 GBP or face arrest. He didn't have that kind of money so was arrested, charged with having 200(!) grams of cannabis and sent to Bangkok prison. After a few days an English speaking lawyer presented himself, managed to get the amount reduced from 200 grams down to the actual amount of 2 grams and produced the £900 GBP my brother needed to gain bail. My brother then managed to contact my mum and I am now sending the £900 GBP my brother needs to pay his bail as no one else in my family has any money. He is bailed until the end of September when he will have to appear in court. The moral of this story is don't buy drugs in Thailand or better still, boycott the country until it can sort out its police corruption problem! If you are offered drugs it will more than likely be a set up by extremely corrupt cops who only have their own interests (not those of Thai law or the Thai people)in mind!

Sternendiener said...

I am very worried about the drug- situation in the world. The UN convention on narcotics and the national laws are provoking and supporting crimes againt the human taderights.

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous. I say just don't go there, there are other amazing places to visit in the world where they don't have these warped policies. Just my opinion..

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info, I was wondering about whether or not to bother smoking pot while in Thailand, chances are unlikely unless I'm feeling extra safe about my scenario~

Anonymous said...

Guys, Ive recently been Thailand.
This is a good article, but take note. IF YOU DO TAKE DRUGS, and your from a wealthy background.
MONEY TALKS. Ive witnessed people who have bribed the Police Officers at the beach with 50,000 baht to each officer and they've walked away.

Anonymous said...

if you are reading this because you like to partake - be aware that I have been many places (not thailand yet) and similar blogs always tell horror stories about police etc.

so far they have been 100% wrong. the stricter the warnings, usually the easier it is to find.

Red and White said...

On the other hand I (the author) have lived in Thailand six years, worked with police, visited Thai prisons, studied police, drugs, politics and corruption extensively and have seen the consequences. So the readers may choose whom to believe on this one - myself or "anonymous".

Anonymous said...

I'll believes anonymous

Greg said...

I think I can guess why.

Anonymous said...

In defense of author:

If you've done any research on basically any part of south east Asia, you'd know that this is indeed true. The author is presenting well aknowledged facts... Not opinions.

Anonymous said...

I recently returned from Bangkok. At first, I was equally worried (like most people who have landed on this blog) about drug use in Thailand and before my friends and I left for the airport, we agreed that would just not do drugs whilst there because it is too dangerous (and not worth the risk). Now, having been there, I would say the following. If you want to do drugs, try and meet people there and do it with them. Do NOT buy drugs. The way it worked out for us was that we met some tourists and some cool locals (mainly girls) who then took us back to their place. Whatever they were doing we would do. Obviously it is not a guarantee but if you have 3 - 4 locals around you smoking pot or doing other stuff you naturally feel saver to do the same in their company as you assume they know what they are doing.

Luckily we never had a problem and generally an awesome time in Bangkok. In fact, it was freaking amazing ;)

Anonymous said...

I just saw hangover 2 and was wondering about drug use there, they made it seem like you can get everything everywhere there and everyone is cool with it

Anonymous said...

True it happened to me possession of marijuana it was about 8 grams istayed a night in monkey house next day my brother bailed me out 30,000TB and right now im just waiting for my courtday and cant leave the country ....


Anonymous said...

getting and smoking pot in bangkok and thailand is easy... safest place to get the pot is from a tuk tuk driver... it is expensive.. about a thousand baht for small bag... just don't smoke where people can see you... your hotel room or apartment is fine.....

Anonymous said...

Have your morons considered the possibility that you can do drugs in youse guys country for cheaper and with less problems? Do drugs in your place and please dont bring back your shit abroad.

Anonymous said...

^ I like this guys comment.

Thanks to the author for his helpful post. I wanted to see what was legal in Thailand before I visited on my way back from teaching in Japan. I would have liked to try something new. I have the when in Rome outlook. However, it's clearly not an option in this country, and not worth the risk. Well, I guess I'll just have to stick with some beers on the beach. Life's hard..

Anonymous said...

^ I like this guys comment.

Thanks to the author for the informative post! I was wanting to see what is legal before my trip. I have been teaching in Japan for a year and would have like to smoke some pot; if it was legal. It clearly is not. Moreover, there are corrupt police involved. So, I'll be sticking to beers on the beach. Life is hard...

Anonymous said...

What the author of this blog write about drugs is true - whether some of you like it or not. I have myself lived in Thailand. I don't do drugs but still I was stopped almost daily by police (as I have long hair most probably)who checked me for drugs, and the reason I was nervous was because I couldn't know if they would plant some in my pockets just to get some bribes. The jails in Thailand are full of "farangs" who think they'll get away from drugs use by waving their passports and/or thinking a small bribe will do. Full moon parties are big business in Thailand, and (silly/naive) tourists get regularly rounded up at isolated beaches when police suddenly show up and have the surrounded (yes they use speed boats so you can't escape into the sea). Many Thai people have a certain resentment towards farangs and take a certain joy in making their lives miserable, particularly Thai police/jail authorities. True, many of the tourists lack respect for Thai people/culture; but many of the "victims" are the "ordinary" farang.
I once met a pretty, blond Scandinavian girl who was drugged and raped in Kusamui by sons of some of the rich locas: she knew the one's who did it but the police would not assist in anyway, and in the end she was wisely advised to just leave the island or she may be killed. Crime against farangs are silenced in the press and police reports are twisted in their favour, which is why so little is written about it and so many farangs live in the illusion that "anything" goes in Thailand.

Anonymous said...

The land of smiles....Break the law and then it will be called the land of tears .
Thailand has the western world fouled with its slogans and crap . I see the smiling face turn into a dangers killing animals. . I have seen taxi platons beat On one westearner.. I have seen scams jet ski... I can go On and on .
Take my word for it come her for the vigana once You had enough fly home ......STAY AWAY FROM TROUBLE .

Anonymous said...

I dont see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind!!

Smoke weed, enjoy it, just don't get caught with it. Easy enough if you are not retarded with it.

Anonymous said...

I was kidnapped and held for ransom. Set up by someone I had purchased and used heroin with several times. Not a particularly pleasant experience. Surprisingly the police were helpful, advised me well and didn't take a cent. I would say that's not common for police to behave this way. Unsurprisingly, they did say I was an idiot and to pull my head in.

Anonymous said...

I am English & live in Thailand so if you have trouble having a good time or simply being able to cope without drugs stay home & support your local drug dealer. This will make him & non drug users in Thailand much happier.

Anonymous said...

like any country if u got half a brain you will suss out a person or situation, if u are a moron u will get ripped off/caught