BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai parliament on Tuesday passed a new narcotics bill that emphasizes prevention and treatment rather than punishment for small-scale drug users, and introduces tougher measures against organised crime, which could lead to a drop in the numbers of inmates in the overcrowded Thai prison system.
The legislation, initially approved by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s cabinet in 2019, combines more than 20 existing laws relating to narcotics, some unchanged since the 1970s. Those range from laws and penalties relating to drug possession, smuggling and distribution, to confiscation of assets relating to drugs and organised crime.
“The new law shifts away from the old concept that emphasises only suppression because more suppression has not resulted in drug eradication,” Chatchawan Suksumjit, a senator who chaired a joint parliamentary committee overseeing changes to the new narcotic laws, told Reuters.
“Punishment will now be divided between low level, which means drug users, who will systematically receive treatment rather than prison, while high level offenders will face more severe punishment,” he said.
The Thai Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin earlier said the new legislation will result in reduced sentencing for almost 50,000 inmates after it becomes law.
Eighty percent of more than 300,000 inmates in the Thai penitentiary system are currently detained on drug-related charges, according to official figures.
Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), described the new bill as “positive.”
“It should naturally lower the prison population which is at extreme levels,” Jeremy said. “This is big for both the country and region.”
The legislation will now await royal endorsement before it becomes law by the end of the year.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Bernadette Baum)