More than 80 per cent of inmates at all 140 prisons around the country are serving sentences for drug-related crimes, which has caused major overcrowding.
Limiting the number of convicts going to jail by putting less serious offenders in separate facilities for rehabilitation would cut the chances of them learning about the drug trade behind bars from big-time dealers, Charnchao Chainukij, deputy permanent secretary of the Justice Ministry, said yesterday.
All nine narcotics-related laws will be combined into one.
The law will focus on redefining illicit drugs, with drugs for legal mainstream use controlled, and parameters set for which drug convicts will be jailed and which will undergo rehabilitation.
The measures involved and the entire process will be evaluated, with convicts punished through various means instead of just jail.
Small-time dealers or users will be given penal options so they do not "fall prey" to big-time dealers who want to recruit and train them for operations including the notorious in-prison drug business.
Among the key changes will be the factor deciding the severity of penalties or length of incarceration.
Currently this is the number of drug tablets or the amount or weight of drugs seized from suspects.
Those found possessing two to five amphetamine tablets are regarded as users and account for 40 per cent of all drug-convicted inmates.
Charnchao said the success of rehabilitation was difficult to measure or estimate, as it needed to done on a voluntary basis. Most prisoners choose to complete their time in order to be released, and they are likely to return to abuse or drug-dealing afterwards.
Other agencies back plan
Permpong Chaovalit, secretary-general of the Narcotics Control Board, said he agrees with the changes planned by the Justice Ministry.
He said it would not affect how his office worked, but boost the efficiency of drug suppression operations as a whole.
National Human Rights Commission member Dr Niran Pitakwatchara said the amendment would better prevent police or anti-narcotics agents from abusing their power.
For example, the NHRC has received many complaints of police planting drugs on innocent people to extort money from them.
Asst Prof Apinun Aramrattana, director of Chiang Mai University's Northern Substance Abuse Centre, said demand for 'ya ba' in the North was high, making suppression difficult. The low arrest rate of drug lords had encouraged users or the "small fish" to get into big-time drug deals.
He said efficient preventive measures, through the support of families and the promotion of values, would be better than brute and blunt suppression. Long-term planning and implementation of a family institution was important and should receive government backing.
The amendment should proceed carefully and |thoroughly on a case-by-case basis for sensitive conditions, he said.