Last week, DRCNet reported that Thai authorities, bedeviled by a massive epidemic of methamphetamine trafficking and use, are considering everything from Thai army drug treatment camps for imprisoned users to government-owned methamphetamine stores that would sell the drug cheap and knock the financial underpinnings out from beneath the lucrative trade, based primarily in neighboring Burma and controlled by the insurgent United Wa State Army (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/175.html#thailand).
Since then, the Thai Office of the Narcotic Control Board (ONCB), the country's lead drug policy agency, has announced a national conference on the topic to be held next week in the northern town of Chiang Rai. In a move to broaden the discussion, the board has invited not only the military and law enforcement agencies, but non-governmental organizations and Thai public health and safety agencies.
ONCB Deputy Secretary-General Thirapat Santimatanedol told the Bangkok Post that cabinet ministers, high-level ministry officials, and military and police officials, as well as academics, researchers, and representatives of private groups will attend the conference.
The summit, to be held March 11 and 12, will be chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who told the Bangkok Post the summit will produce "clear-cut measures to combat drugs."
Such a consensus, however, on how to deal with methamphetamine, or yaba ("mad medicine"), as the Thais call it, has not yet been reached, if pre-summit press reports are any indication.
Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a veteran cold warrior, argued for a reprise of the counter-insurgency strategy he said proved successful in fighting communism. In what would be a drug war version of the "drain the sea to get the fish" strategy of separating guerrillas from their social base, the armed forces would separate users from traffickers by herding users into treatment camps. At the same time, drastic action would be taken against drug traders and producers.
The simultaneous treatment with repression program would be operated by the formerly commie-fighting Internal Security Operations Command, which has been restructured to combat drugs.
The Bangkok Post reported that Royal Thai Army Supreme Commander Gen. Sampao Chusri has already assigned 30 camps to the task.
Prime Minister Thaksin will demand the death penalty for traffickers and producers, the paper said.
Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan also wants tougher penalties for methamphetamine dealers and a speedier justice process, and complained that the Food and Drug Administration had run out of space to store drugs being held as evidence.
But Sudarat also echoed earlier calls to consider a government-operated, low-priced methamphetamine distribution system. At least twice in the last year, prominent Thai political figures have called for the Government Pharmaceutical Organization to sell cheap speed tablets as a means of knocking methamphetamine traffickers out of business.
"We're not saying whether it would work or not, but we should study all suggestions. Studying the matter does not mean we will take up the idea," she told the Post.
Whether a coherent policy will emerge from the cacophony of policy proposals remains to be seen. DRCNet will report on the conference results next week.