Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin addresses the media after he chaired his first official cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, 13 September 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/NARONG SANGNAK

New Thai government underlines fight against drugs as top national priority

Bangkok, Sep 18 (EFE).- The newly elected Thai government, which assumed office on Sep. 5, has announced that resolving the drug problem in the country, especially the circulation of methamphetamine (meth), is a national priority for the next four years, local media outlets reported Monday.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin greets members of the press as he arrives for his first official cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, 13 September 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/NARONG SANGNAK

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told reporters on Sunday evening that strong measures were required against drug traffickers, who do not even fear jail terms and can only be dealt with by seizing their assets.

The PM added that he had asked agencies to accelerate the use of law in this regard.

In a meeting on Sunday, the Thai cabinet laid down the guidelines for the national plan to prevent, suppress and resolve drug problems for the 2023-2027 period, which includes treating the addicts as patients, social reintegration of drug users, and increasing the budget and number of operations in the fight against drug-trafficking and money laundering.

The government said in a statement that all the agencies needed to cooperate to resolve drug issues and ensure “serious and effective” compliance of the law.

According to the statement, the priority now is suppression of smuggling, which the government considers a “key measure” to prevent drugs from reaching communities.

It announced the establishment of a new center for “prevention and suppression of drugs.”

Srettha said that the government aimed to achieve a “significant reduction” in the presence of drugs in the country within a year, while meth should completely “disappear” by the end of the four-year term.

However, the plan has triggered concerns among activists in the country, who fear that the new “war on drugs” could prove to be a repeat of the government approach two decades ago, when the Thaksin Shinawatra administration had imposed a “zero-tolerance” policy against drugs.

The measures, launched in 2003, had led to a wave of criticism within and outside Thailand due to widespread violence by security forces, which allegedly carried out around 2,500-2,800 extra-judicial killings against suspected drug traffickers within just three months, according to estimates by nonprofits.

Although Thai law stipulates punishments of up to 15 years in prison for drug trafficking – with life term or death penalty reserved for extreme cases – the authorities had eased their anti-drug policies in recent years and shifted the focus towards rehabilitation – especially in the case of small-time traffickers – instead of punishments.

The legal reform also seeks to resolve another problem: overcrowding in Thai prisons, where around 80 percent of the prisoners are in custody for crimes related to drugs, most of them of minor nature.

Last year, Thai authorities removed marijuana from its list of illegal drugs in order to promote the medicinal use of cannabis, although the move opened the floodgates for the substance’s consumption and trade for recreational use. EFE