Presenting author: Unchisa Eaimtong
Presenting author biography:
Unchisa works with the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) as Asia Programme Officer and is based in Thailand. She supports financial management and reporting to donors, communications, administration, and networking amongst IDPC members in the region. She is keen to broaden her knowledge in policy advocacy.
A year of radical drug policy reforms in Thailand: lessons learned and gaps that remain
Thailand, along with other Southeast Asian countries, has been known for punitive drug laws that heavily criminalise and punish people who use drugs. Harsh punishment is considered a deterrent for drug-related activities. This approach has resulted in prison overcrowding, human rights violations (especially by law enforcement), and an inadequate health response.
The introduction of Thailand’s new Narcotics Code in December 2021 was adopted with a proclaimed shift in paradigm towards proportionate sentencing and voluntary treatment. In the past year, Thailand also adopted legal reforms to legally regulate the supply and use of kratom and cannabis, and enable related decarceration. However, the need to address prison overcrowding remains urgent and punitive approaches remain entrenched.
The International Drug Policy Consortium has been working with stakeholders in government, international organisations, community networks and civil society in Thailand to promote human rights- and harm reduction-led drug policies, including decriminalisation. Continuous engagement through research and policy analysis, trainings, and dialogues has helped shape recent reforms, including by highlighting the specific impacts of punitive approaches on people who use drugs, women, and LGBTQ+ people. However there remain crucial concerns with the reforms that must be addressed.
Recent legal changes have led to a reduction in the number of people in prison for drug offences. However, drug use remains widely criminalised, instances of police brutality are frequent, and discrimination in treatment settings is prevalent, especially against women and LGBTQ+ people. Moreover, while harm reduction is mentioned in the Narcotics Code, it appears merely as an alternative to abstinence-based treatment, rather than an overarching approach to drug use and dependence. IDPC will continue to collaborate and strategise with civil society and community allies on how best to leverage recent reforms towards improving human rights, harm reduction and social justice outcomes in Thailand and the wider ASEAN region.