At a regular ‘drug policy watch’ meeting organised by Thai CSOs in April, attended also by IDPC and the Law Reform Commission of Thailand (LRCT), I reported on some of the key outcomes of the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs held in March (CND). None of the Thai CSOs, including IDPC member the 12D Network, had attended and it seemed relevant to share with them our perspective on Thailand’s role in the global drug policymaking body, especially their priorities and position on key topics such as the death penalty, controls on ketamine and civil society engagement.

We had met with members of Thailand’s delegation at CND and noted their statements during the plenary and roundtable sessions, particularly the fact that Thailand remained neutral on whether to call for abolition of the death penalty for drug offences, and sponsoring of resolutions on controls over ketamine, the new MOU between countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, the UN Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, and drug use prevention. For a record of these statements, please refer to our blog on statements made during CND: www.cndblog.org.

In response, the CSO representatives at the Thailand drug policy watch meeting asked IDPC and the LRCT to co-organise a dialogue involving Thai delegates to the CND and Thai CSOs. They were keen to hear more from Thailand’s delegates on the outcomes of CND and the implications for Thailand. To prepare for the meeting, IDPC drafted a briefing paper on the role and function of CND, key outcomes of CND 2014 relevant to Thailand, and suggested discussion points to help prepare for CSO engagement in CND 2015 (prospects for civil society participation, and open and objective drug policy debate, especially in preparing for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem).

At the meeting, Thailand’s drug control agency (ONCB) presented their priority issues (decriminalisation of kratom and other drugs, alternatives to prison, death penalty, harm reduction, drug use prevention based on scientific evidence, controls on new psychoactive substances and CSO participation) and key engagements (resolutions on the new MOU with Greater Mekong Subregion countries and using sport to prevent drug use, and meetings with countries such as Colombia on alternative development and organisations such as the Colombo Plan about training on drug treatment) at CND 2014.

Other delegates from other ministries such as health raised the possibility of amending Thailand’s approach to drug treatment in response to international criticism about the use of the criminal justice process to assess drug dependence and treatment needs which provoked a lively debate between government representatives.

Representatives from quasi-governmental organisations working on drugs called for a more open, objective drug policy dialogue on alternative options, including decriminalisation, reducing harsh sentences for drug offences and involving people who use drugs in making drug laws and policies, reiterating the need for change from drug policy approaches that have repeatedly proven to be ineffective. CSO representatives focussed on calling for the government’s support for civil society engagement in CND processes.

The ONCB seemed reluctant to welcome the engagement of Thai CSOs. However as chair of the meeting, the LRCT urged the ONCB to work to find ways of enhancing civil society engagement and promised to help maintain the momentum of drug policy dialogue in Thailand. Though now under military control, it is hoped that some space for open, inclusive drug policy debate can be sustained, especially as Thailand is likely to chair the next CND in 2015, a key moment in preparations for UNGASS 2016.