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Briefing paper: Thailand’s ‘War on Drugs’

This Beckley Briefing Paper is concerned with the Thai ‘war on drugs’, which commenced in February 2003 in response to an explosion in methamphetamine use in this region of East Asia, and which has resulted in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of arrests. The Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme (BFDPP) believes that the proper basis for evaluation of drug policy is effectiveness in minimising drug related harms. But the BFDPP has also argued that the pursuit of harm minimisation should always ‘respect universal human rights and, subject to this requirement, local judicial norms and practices’ (Roberts M, Klein A and Trace M, 2003, p. 6). The Thai ‘war on drugs’ fails to satisfy the BFDPP criteria on these grounds, because it was conducted in a way that violates the basic rules of justice that determine the moral and legal limits of what can be legitimately done by the state in pursuit of social objectives. It is nonetheless instructive to consider the effectiveness of Thai policy both on its own terms (what has the impact been on prevalence?) and in terms of the wider agenda for building the evidence base (what has the impact been on drug related harms?). This investigation is worthwhile because it can provide insights into the strengths and limits of enforcement as an instrument of drug policy, by examining what is perhaps the toughest and most uncompromising recent manifestation of this approach. This is the subject matter of this Beckley briefing.