Thailand's Drug Policy

Thailand's Drug Policy

As one of the important transit points for drugs moving to countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, Thailand’s drug policy seeks to reduce both demand and supply, but cranks down on the supply side much harder.

The zero-tolerance approach focuses on law enforcement. In fact, the maximum penalty for drug trafficking is the death penalty. In addition to imprisonment and fines for drug trafficking, additional penalties such as the confiscation of drug dealers’ asset have also been used to deter drug trafficking. Furthermore, monetary incentives have been provided to people providing useful information and reports about drug trade with an estimated 344,509,318 baht (USD 9,843,123) paid from 2008 to 2012.

To tackle the demand side, Thailand mandates treatment. For drug users, treatments are usually provided in three settings: community outpatient treatment, compulsory treatment centres and treatment in prison. Treatments usually focus on physical exercise, vocational training and lectures on the problems on drug use. Failure to abstain during or after treatment could lead to persecution.


Thailand’s repressive enforcement against drug use has been criticised for contravening human rights. One of its most prominent campaigns is the “War on Drugs” beginning in early 2003 to address the increased use of Yaa Baa (a mixture of methamphetamines and caffeine). The police and military were given quotas for the number of users, traffickers and dealers to arrest. Furthermore, rewards have been given for arrest above the quotas. Even though the campaign has resulted in short term success, with over 23 million methamphetamine pills sized and over 320,000 drug users surrendered to authorities for treatment, approximately 2,800 people were killed during the process. Even if an investigation by the government in 2007, which has suggested that half of these killings had no connection to drugs, is credible, the brutality of the campaign is apparent.

Moreover, Thailand’s implementation of community-based prevention and treatment have not been successful. Firstly, drug consumption remains a crime and the threat of imprisonment and death have deterred people from going to seeking treatment. There is little incentive for people to admit to voluntary treatment when the prospect for compulsory treatment or imprisonment is the likely outcome.  Secondly, the Thai government’s harsh messaging regarding drugs have resulted in negative attitudes towards drug users amongst the community, including service providers. Consequently, harassment and abuse within treatment centres is common, indicating how treatment centres fail to deal with underlying psychological and social contributors. And without any attempt in providing any care after the patient’s release, relapse rates stood at 18% in 2005.


Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

[1] James, W. (2016). Drugs and Drug Policy in Thailand. Brookings. Retrieved from

[2] Darika, S.  (2018). Substance Abuse Policy in Thailand: Current Challenges and Future Strategies. Ashdin Publishing. doi:10.4303/jdar/236058