Confessions of a Teenage Drug Addict > Making life tougher for drug dealers

Editorial in Bangkok Post (28th November 2001)

Methamphetamines, or yaa baa (crazy drug) as they are known more colourfully locally, have been identified as the leading threat to society and the security of our nation. This is no overstatement. The statistics put the number of methamphetamine users at 2.7 million, give or take, including some 300,000 habitual users. This should leave no doubt as to the seriousness of the drug problem.

Apart from the domestic abuse problem, there is the huge amount of money, estimated at several billion baht a year, which flows into the coffers of the criminals behind the drugs trade, ranging from the Wa producers of the speed pills in the hills of Burma to the hilltribe smugglers and major traffickers, and on to the small-time dealer in every city slum and backstreet alley.

Efforts aimed at stemming the flow of drugs from inside Burma have met with little success. It is estimated that less than 10% of the drugs being produced, at between 700 and 800 million pills this year, is intercepted. This is hardly inspiring, and the success rate will be even less encouraging now the traffickers are using more couriers, each carrying a smaller amount of pills.

The police can hardly boast of success in their battle with the drug dealers in our cities, especially against the small-time dealers who are the last link in the lucrative drug trade chain. These small fry seem to be everywhere. Narcotics officers say no community is immune from this menace.

The amendment bill passed by the Senate on Monday with certain reservations is targetted at these small dealers. It legislates for anyone caught with 15 or more speed pills to be dealt with as a dealer liable to harsh penalties. Some senators wanted to make things even tougher by classifying anyone with as few as three pills a dealer. The present law classifies a dealer as someone in possession of 800 tablets or 20 grammes of methamphetamines.

The amended law will strengthen the hand of authorities in dealing with small-time dealers. Their job also will be made easier by the amendment which would help them to distinguish between drug dealers and users. Anyone caught in possession with less than 15 pills will be charged not with intent to sell but with possessing drugs for personal consumption.

All of this is a move in the right direction but there will be room for concern if the amendment bill further reduces the number of speed pills _ say to three, as suggested by some senators _ which would qualify a person as a dealer. If this were introduced, many habitual users who, according to narcotics officers consume 3-5 tablets a day on average, would be treated as dealers and end up in prison instead of receiving rehabilitation. A similar fate will befall young addicts who sell drugs to their classmates to support their own habit. Our prisons could very quickly be bursting at the seams.

There is also the grim prospect of abuse of power by rogue police. Complaints are made time and again of officers who ``find'' methamphetamines on a suspect's body or at their home and then extort money in exchange for dropping charges. Many more perfectly innocent people will be victimised by crooked police if the possession of just 3-5 pills is enough to convict someone of being a drug dealer.

The intentions of the senators to make life a lot tougher for the small-time dealers is greatly appreciated, but the need to care for and rehabilitate tens of thousands of addicts must not be overlooked. We should not deprive those who stray marginally from the path the chance to lead a productive life and contribute to society. We would be better concentrating on trying to reduce the demand for drugs, especially among the young.