Monday, April 7, 2008

And You Thought WE Had Problems in the Drug Wars.....

Well we do, and while Pavin Chachavalpongpun offers reasons why Thailand's new "war on drugs" may result in disaster below, it is important to note that as of 2006 in the United States "according to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the US is $67.55. State prisons held 249,400 inmates for drug offenses in 2006. That means it cost states approximately $16,846,970 per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6,149,144,050 per year."

These non-violent drug offenders often are forced into violence by prison life and "department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them."

This profoundly disturbing fact is matched by much more disturbing information on the drug wars online at the Drug Wars Facts Center which grimly notes that entire prison population for non-violent offenses is larger than the COMBINED population of Wyoming and Alaska.

In Thailand of course it is different, drug wars can be used to secure the Muslim south or to try to end trafficking in the North, but the last time such policies were enacted, in an already very libertarian constitutional monarchy, the overall result was an increase in the amount of drugs flowing into the country and the amount of extra-juridical killings within the country.

In both nations, there is another way to handle the problem of drugs.
Let's think about this as a comparative, alternative solution and discuss it for a moment.

In America, drugs, especially marijuana should be decriminalized because as Tucker Carlson noted on MSNBC, "the cash value of the American Marijuana crop is more then the total cash value of its corn crops."

In Thailand where the subject of drugs are taboo because of traditional Buddhist morality and nationalism, and can result in painful punishments; an alternative to this "war on drugs" strategy is to use the crop production of poppies from the North for the Thai National Pharmaceutical Industry and to sell to pharmaceutical companies around the world. This 1.) gives farmers a viable livelihood, and 2.) puts the emphasis of the effort on securing the national border and on gang control , 3.) it provides a free-market solution to the age old problem of opiates in Thailand.

Using a "war on gangs" to control the black market flow from the north and the border problems between Laos and Burma would be much more valuable weapon to maintain social order.

While for the problems in the south, I have no idea whatsoever as to how to handle them other than to say that control in the south has been maintained in a rough way since the 19th century and I think the last time Taksin sent the army down there many people died. I have lost Buddhist friends there so I am not qualified to comment.

For drugs other than marijuana (which can be used to make alternative fuels) a system of private rehabilitation and using less forceful methods is likely to produce longer term results when combined with alternative crop use for pharmaceutical companies instead of encouraging legislative restrictions that create a black market use.

The war on drugs in Thailand has been so harsh that it has even prompted a cynical often ironic attitude about the severity of punishments as illustrated by this sign at the Bangkok Hard Rock Cafe and the United World of Indigenous Peoples has even called for Taksin Shinawatra to be brought up on human rights violations before the UN.

An alternative argument against a War on Drugs and for a war on the black market gangs that control drugs could run like this, by making the production of opiates illegal, and not securing the borders around the golden triangle, problems often arise because small, poor, rural producers of opiates are punished harshly and gang interdiction is virtually non-existent and security at the northern frontier suffers.

By replacing this with a strategy that allows the production of opiates and alternative crops for domestic pharmaceutical and anesthetic use, you decrease the lack of security at the border and local farmers still get good baht for their crops from national and global pharmaceutical cartels as opposed to black market cartels.

To control the development of a renegade methamphetamine industry, it is important to provide people who are risk alternatives to these drugs, and a free-market solution to ensure their behavior is not rewarded, but they are given a chance to work for rehabilitation. In America we have found that even teachers can be on meth, but once discovered instead of being put into jail, they should be put into rehabilitation programs unless they prove to be a danger to others. Rehabilitation programs it turns out, cost less than holding people in jail for years at a time.

No matter what happens, whenever a "war on drugs" is announced in America or Thailand you can expect the government to make mistakes. The only difference being that in America it is less likely to be a little less lethal, but not by a very large margin.

And like the article below, decriminalization of many drugs and management of gangs, and alternative uses for other drugs are part of the same argument is being made across America today.

The only hope I would have is that mistakes the government makes can be a little less lethal and less terrifying for normal citizens in both countries.

Terrifying you ask, yes, terrifying like when the cops shoot through your windows and attack your house but discover it was not you but your neighbor they were after- or come into your home without a warrant and bust you for having sodium benzoate in your house-

WHEN BUSTS GO BAD The Heat Takes Some Heat Well-Publicized Drug Raids Come Up Empty SLO County residents arrested during bungled narcotics raids are challenging the tactics of both of the county's narcotics squads. An Atascadero woman sued the Sheriff's Department last month because its narcotics officers blasted through the windows and doors of her home instead of raiding the neighboring address listed on their search warrant. In a second case, a San Luis Obispo man spent 16 days in jail and had his name broadcast on television and printed in newspapers as an accused methamphetamine manufacturer. The white powder narcotics officers found at his home turned out to be sodium benzoate, a common food preservative.

I do not advocate the use of drugs and think it is a serious social problem, but I know there are less violent alternatives to end drug use.

In America I have a strong moral problem against declaring a "war on drugs" because by criminalizing a product that can be used for legitimate commercial purposes and to relieve the pain of the sick and suffering we have made more mistakes and injured more people, spent more tax money that we do not have, and have not solved the problem in over 50 years.

In Thailand they have been unable to solve the problem of drugs by copying our methods.

What it clearly demonstrates is that while alternative, viable, long term solutions for the problems of drug control are out there, they just haven't been tried.

April 1, 2008

THAILAND'S WAR ON DRUGS: A potentially disastrous weapon
By Pavin Chachavalpongpun

THE Thai government recently announced a new 'war on drugs', to be launched this month, to curb an alarming surge in the flow of narcotics through the kingdom.

The first 'war on drugs' was launched by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003. Human rights groups claim that this 'war' led to the extra-judicial killing of more than 2,500 people.

The Thai government estimates that 1.9 million people were either buying or selling illicit drugs in 2003. Thaksin's tough measures brought that number down to 450,000, but this rose to 570,000 last year.

The increasing availability of drugs - mostly methamphetamines, known locally as yaa baa - has been evident since the military coup of September 2006. The relaxation of measures since then has contributed to a rise in the cultivation and production of narcotics in Thailand.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says poppy cultivation in Thailand rose by 30 per cent during the period, from 157ha in 2006 to 205ha last year.

But Bangkok's latest 'war on drugs' is aimed not only at eliminating deadly drugs, but also at strengthening the power of its political elite. When Thaksin inaugurated his anti-drug campaign, there was little resistance among Thais. Indeed, support for the 'war' indicates that the Thai understanding of human rights is at odds with that of the West.

The Samak Sundaravej government has portrayed its own 'war on drugs' as a follow-up to that of Thaksin's. The ex-premier remains immensely popular among Thais in the rural areas. By linking the latest 'war' to Thaksin's, the government hopes to reaffirm its political legitimacy.

Of more concern, to make the 'war' appear justifiable, the government has released statistics purporting to show a correlation between drug trafficking and the on-going insurgency in southern Thailand.

About 40 per cent of drug traffickers, it is claimed, come from suburban Bangkok and the Muslim-majority southern provinces. Such statistics might further alienate Muslims by locating them out of the realm of Thai morality.

Muslim insurgents could end up being depicted not only as troublesome irredentists but also as drug traders who deserve to be dealt with by stiff measures, including perhaps extra-judicial killings.

The renewal of the 'war on drugs' will likely elicit a chorus of disapproval from the international community, particularly human rights groups. The question is how Thailand can balance the eradication of drugs with the protection of human rights. Recent statements indicate that the correct balance is unlikely to be found.

Premier Samak has said: 'My government will decisively implement a policy against drug trafficking. Government officials must implement this policy 24 hours a day, but I will not set a target of how many people should die.'

Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has said: 'When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it.'

Drugs have long been a destabilising force in Thai society. Many young people have fallen prey to drugs and this situation undoubtedly threatens the well-being of the nation. The widespread use of narcotics has also tarnished Thailand's reputation. It is perceived by foreigners as a place where drugs are treated as commodities of everyday life.

The eradication of drugs has to be a national priority.

But if this fresh anti-drug drive has been launched mainly for political reasons - to cement the government's mandate or to divert public attention from bad policies or to prosecute Muslims in the south - then the consequences could be catastrophic.

It could generate a climate of fear, violence and insecurity as well as further delay the country's economic recovery.

It could then become a bone of contention between Thailand and human rights groups worldwide, especially if it is waged as carelessly as was the previous one.

The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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