Thailand

19 September 2011
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Despite the provisions in the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (2002), laws remain in force which lead to the arrest and charges for offences under previous Acts (1975, 1976, 1979). Thus the policy that stipulates that people who use drugs or are dependent on drugs should be “treated as patients, not criminals” is contradicted by existing legal practices that establish criminal liability for mere consumption of drugs. However, the Thai government is now on the verge of adopting a national harm reduction policy to prevent HIV and other blood-borne virus transmission in the near future.

 

The Thai framework for drug control

The Thai framework for drug control is enshrined in the Narcotics Act (1979), the Narcotics Control Act (1976) and the Psychotropic Substances Act (1975). Possession is unlawful and penalties depend on the nature and quantity and types of drugs . Exceptions include patients (for medical use certified by doctor), physicians and pharmacists (holding a license). Sanctions against consumption of drugs vary according to their classification in law. Consumption of heroin and marijuana is prohibited whereas opium may be legally prescribed for medical purposes. In short, the 1975 and 1979 Acts concentrate on banning the unauthorized production, consumption, possession and sale of a wide range of drugs. Both Acts create criminal offences for both personal use and personal possession of controlled substances. Production, importation or exportation of narcotics listed in Category I, when “for the purposes of disposal,” is punishable with the death penalty whereas consumption and possession will lead to a combination of fines (THB 10,000 to 5,000,000) and incarceration (6 months to life). For a full description of scheduling and sentencing, read Compulsory Drug Treatment in Thailand (CHLN, 2009). In contrast, kratom and marijuana are scheduled under Category 5.

The Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (2002) incorporates a different approach to drug control by creating a legal regime that provides alternatives to incarceration for some drug offences . Under this approach, people are diverted from prisons into either in- or out-patient treatment programs. In-patient treatment programs take place in centres run by government agencies such as the Thai military forces, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of the Interior .

It is worth noting that before treatment programs commence, people are routinely held for up to 45 days or longer in prison while their cases are being assessed. Thus, despite the Act’s stated intent to treat drug users as patients, not as criminals, the majority of users will go through withdrawals while incarcerated, without medical assistance or supervision. Officials explained that budget restrictions prevented people being detained elsewhere, such as health care facilities. In the centres themselves, the central components of treatment are therapeutic community activities, vocational training and physical exercise with emphasis on discipline. However, statements abound in the literature pointing out that punishment was often cruel, inhumane and degrading. Such punishments are outside the legal forms of punishment permitted in the Act.

Despite the provisions in the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act (2002), the previous laws remain in force and people continue to be arrested and charged for offences under those Acts (1975, 1976, 1979). Thus the policy that people who use drugs or are dependent on drugs should be “treated as patients, not criminals” is contradicted by existing laws that establish criminal liability for mere consumption of drugs. However, the Thai government, particularly under the leadership of the Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board, is currently in process of developing an action plan to guide the deployment of the recently approved national harm reduction strategy.

After arrest, the accused has no control on the case’s potential for diversion: a court determines this. In practice, the court’s determination will hinge on a person’s history of drug use, determined through urine testing. In other words, a designated Sub-Committee will order compulsory drug treatment in either custodial or non-custodial programs after reviewing the evidence and the reports of probation officers. In practice, the decisions of the Sub-Committees are also influenced by the available space in custodial centres. The Sub-Committee has authority to extend treatment for periods of up to six months at a time. However, the total duration of treatment cannot exceed three years. Custodial treatment programs initially involve four months in treatment centres, followed by a two-month “re-entry” program.

There have been some attempts to measure the efficacy of compulsory treatment in Thailand. However, in general, the quality of the information obtained has been compromised by limitations in follow-up after people are released from compulsory treatment centres.

Based on these legal tools, Thai law enforcement agencies have been very active in policing drugs and people involved in drug use, production and distribution. Indeed, under the 1975, 1976 and 1979 Acts, any person can be forcibly tested for drug use while giving police and other competent officials wide powers of search, seizure and arrest. Police efforts have often led to abuses such as the 2003 War on Drugs where the extrajudicial killing of over 2,200 people was recorded .

Further, drug law enforcement has been associated with various human rights abuses including illegal searches, unlawful detainment, and assault. Police have been reported to beat drug users to obtain confessions that arrestees are often not informed of their legal rights, and that rates of drug injecting in Thailand have not markedly decreased despite reports of increased levels of strict enforcement and enforcement-related violence .

On a more day-to-day basis, reports abound of other forms of abuse towards people who use and deal drugs. Planting drugs on suspected drug users to extort money or provide grounds for arrest is not uncommon . Blacklists and community informants are often pressured to give up names for police to proceed to arrests. Outreach workers providing health services to drug users are often arrested or harassed and clients have been picked up just outside health service outlets because there are no protective mechanisms in place . Police have interfered with ongoing local and international studies among people who use drugs.

As an example, Angthong police chief made national headlines with comments such as "Humans who destroy their fellow humans with narcotics through drug dealing are inhumane in my opinion, [so] these people don't deserve to be treated as humans." The law enforcement official reported that he doesn't trust in mere law enforcement to suppress crime, so other techniques are necessary - like the public embarrassment of suspects, which he regards as a psychological deterrent for others .

Despite these blatant abuses, the Thai government is slowly addressing those issues. In 2006, an independent commission was formed to investigate allegations of police abuse and extrajudicial killings during the 2003 war on drugs . In late 2009, a local district court in Bangkok found eight police officers guilty of assault with weapons, illegal detention and extortion in a case involving a female drug user .

Typically, compulsory drug treatment centres operated by the military hold 100–400 patients, and the centres run by the Royal Thai Air Force hold 30–60 patients. The centres run under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior are smaller (30–50 patients). Anecdotal evidence and case studies indicate that overcrowding in such centres is common (see Compulsory Drug Treatment in Thailand by CHLN [2009]).

Primary health care is provided across Thailand’s custodial institutions. However, those are virtually the only health services available – a scarce few prisons provide drug treatment through therapeutic community models but the majority of institutions (even CDTCs) are poorly equipped and poorly resourced to supervise the process of detoxification and manage the complicated symptoms of withdrawal. No psychosocial interventions (such as counseling) were available to the people who went through detoxification in prison and who were interviewed. There is little or no attention to mental health problems that are common among people who use drugs. While proper nutrition, rest and exercise are particularly important during methamphetamine withdrawal, these conditions are not present in Thailand’s prisons. HIV prevention and harm reduction services are non-existent (see Compulsory Drug Treatment in Thailand by CHLN [2009]).

Thailand’s cultivation of illicit crops is consistently considered as virtually insignificant by the international community . ONCB remains responsible for operations of illicit crop control and reports are issued about seizures on an annual basis . The crop substitution projects of Thailand continue to be praised as an effective and successful model across the world. Information about illicit crop control policies, sentencing and lived experiences was not directly or readily available.

More information:

Drugs: penalties and rehabilitation, Bangkok Post, September 11, 2011

Notes

1. Corrections Department, Ministry of Justice, Government of Thailand; compared to 69% as reported in HPTN058, 2007, Rapid Policy Assessment for China and Thailand.

Over one-fifth of which were cases of drug consumption (as opposed to drug trafficking or other drug-related offences). See UNODC, 2004, Drugs and HIV/AIDS in South East Asia: A Review of Critical Geographic Areas of HIV/AIDS Infection Among Injecting Drug Users and of National Programme Responses in Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

In 2001, Thailand’s prison population was approximately 251,000. See ICPS’ World Prison Population Lists and OSI-IHRD, 2009, At What Cost? HIV and Human Rights Consequences of the Global “War on Drugs”.

Corrections Department, Ministry of Justice, Government of Thailand; compared to 212,058 as reported in ICPS, 2010, Prison Brief for Thailand. Online.

In 2007, Thailand’s prison population was recorded at approximately166,000. See previous editions of ICPS’ World Prison Population List and OSI-IHRD, 2009, At What Cost? HIV and Human Rights Consequences of the Global “War on Drugs”.

According to ICPS, Thailand’s current prison population capacity is 105,748. With the present 212,058 inmates across 142 prisons, occupancy levels are at 157.3%.

Lawyer’s Collective, 2009, Drugs, Treatment and Harm Reduction; CHLN, 2009, Compulsory Drug Treatment in Thailand.

The diversion scheme established by the 2002 Act can apply only when certain illegal drugs in quantities less than the limit prescribed by a Ministerial Regulation and in the context of four offences: drug consumption; drug consumption and possession; drug consumption and possession for disposal; and drug consumption and disposal (CHLN, 2009).

Since the Act was adopted, the number of compulsory drug treatment centres has been expanding rapidly: in 2004, there were 35 centres; by 2005, there were 49; by the end of 2008, there were 84 (CHLN, 2009). A recent news article indicates plans to expand drug treatment across Thailand by bringing another 150,000 clients into treatment, on top of the existing 300,000 clients currently in the treatment system.

Lawyer’s Collective, 2009, Drugs, Treatment and Harm Reduction; CHLN, 2009, Compulsory Drug Treatment in Thailand.
The diversion scheme established by the 2002 Act can apply only when certain illegal drugs in quantities less than the limit prescribed by a Ministerial Regulation and in the context of four offences: drug consumption; drug consumption and possession; drug consumption and possession for disposal; and drug consumption and disposal (CHLN, 2009).
Since the Act was adopted, the number of compulsory drug treatment centres has been expanding rapidly: in 2004, there were 35 centres; by 2005, there were 49; by the end of 2008, there were 84 (CHLN, 2009). A recent news article indicates plans to expand drug treatment across Thailand by bringing another 150,000 clients into treatment, on top of the existing 300,000 clients currently in the treatment system.
HRW, 2004, Not Enough Graves: The War on Drugs, HIV/AIDS, and Violations of Human Rights.
Werb et. al., 2009, “Drug use patterns among Thai illicit drug injectors amidst increased police presence“ Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 4:16.
Fairbairn, N., et. al., 2009, “Reports of evidence planting by police among a community-based sample of injection drug users in Bangkok, Thailand” BMC International Health and Human Rights, 9:24.
OSI-IHRD, 2009, At What Cost? HIV and Human Rights Consequences of the Global “War on Drugs”.
Kitjakosol, T., 5 July 2009, “Is this the toughest cop in Thailand?” The Nation.
OSI-IHRD, 2009, At What Cost? HIV and Human Rights Consequences of the Global “War on Drugs”.
Human Rights Watch, 14 December 2009, “Thailand: Convictions of Police in Drug Campaign Abuse a ‘First Step’”.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held a workshop in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai on 24-28 January 2010 to share experiences with successful illicit crop cultivation control and border security management.
See ONCB. 2009. Annual Report.