Drug policy reform in Thailand kicked off early in 2017 with legal amendments that reduced the conflation of possession and supply offences. The prosecution now must produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate the culpability of people accused of selling/producing illicit substances. At the same time, the overall length of sentences for drug offences was reduced, a welcome and much-needed change in a context of soaring prison population.
More reforms were widely expected, as the military regime mulled substantial changes to the country’s drug policy. Indeed, under the leadership of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), a number of multi-stakeholder discussions underscored the need to shift towards a health-orientated approach. These conversations contemplated the possibility of removing prison penalties for drug use and a strengthening the involvement of the Ministry of Health in the national drug strategy.
The final package of amendments, contained in the Narcotics Control Bill, remains to be revealed. It is expected that a public consultation on the proposed legislation will take place in early 2018, with a view to finally adopt the new policy in late 2018.
In parallel to governmental efforts, communities of people who use drugs and harm reduction advocates have been working together to draft a separate piece of legislation. The bill would enhance the participation of civil society in the implementation of the country’s drug strategy. Crucially, it would create a legal framework for civil society to provide services (e.g. harm reduction) without the fear of criminal liability. The drafting process will continue in 2018, and the bill will have to collect 50,000 signatures for its consideration.
2017 also saw ongoing discussions within the Thai government to revise regulations on specific prohibited substances, as reported in a press release dated 17 August 2017 by the ‘Sub-Committee on Research and Development of Policies Regulating and Controlling Methamphetamine’. Although the Sub-Committee’s recommendations are not legally binding, their advisory role feeds into the work of the drug control agency. The following recommendations of the Sub-Commmitee have been adopted and some have entered a piloting phase:
- Hemp: the Sub-Committee supports the enactment of the Ministerial Regulation (in force as of 6 January 2017) under sections 6, 26 and 62 of the Thai Narcotics Act 1979, whereby hemp is allowed to be manufactured and possessed as a commercial crop.
- Kratom: the Sub-Committee appeared to consider that it should remain scheduled as a type 5 narcotic under the country’s Narcotics Act, but to permit exceptions for its personal use and cultivation for personal use (up to three plants per household) in accordance with traditional practice in the Nasarn district, Surattani Province. However, the mixing of kratom with other substances (e.g. cough medicine) for consumption will not be permitted.
- Cannabis: the sub-Committee made no recommendations to change the scheduling of cannabis as a type 5 narcotic, but the substance can be the subject of research under strict conditions.