Criminal Drug Offences
Drug-Related Offenses and Narcotic Charges in Thailand
Drug and narcotic abuse have long been a distressing issue in Thailand. According to a report by Bangkok Post, during the six months from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022, Thai authorities seized 260 million drugs and confiscated nearly 2.4 billion baht worth of assets from drug suspects, (Bangkok Post, 2022).
The offenses related to drugs are strictly governed under several Thai laws, including the Narcotic Act and Psychotropic Substances Act. The consumption, distribution, and possession of narcotics and any additive medicines are controlled and monitored by the Thailand Office of Narcotic Boards together with other relevant authorities, such as the police.
Thailand is known for having strict policies to suppress narcotic crimes and misuse of illegal drugs. The government attempted to address the issue of drug trafficking through severe punishments such as the life sentence or the death penalty. However, due to continued changes and development of the country, the law has been revised. Thailand’s move to legalize the use of cannabis was astonishing to global citizens and the new law is more emphasized on the rehabilitation of the offenders.
Though drug and narcotic laws in the Kingdom have been relaxed to some extent, drug possession and trafficking may still bring about harsh penalties. Foreigners who are found guilty of drug offenses may face serious legal problems and be extradited to their home countries. It is invaluable to be aware of important aspects of drug and narcotic laws in Thailand in order to protect yourself and avoid hefty fines or imprisonment.
Categories of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances
Narcotic Substances: Under Thailand’s Narcotics Act, certain harmful drugs and substances are listed in different categories. These substances contain chemicals that cause mental or psychological effects. This may impact the mood or behaviors of those who consume them and as commonly known, narcotics have the potential to be addictive. Thus, selling, possessing, producing, importing, or consuming these dangerous drugs are considered illegal. Narcotic substances are classified into 5 categories as follows:
- Category I: narcotics that are threatening and dangerous such as heroin and amphetamines
- Category II: narcotics that are regarded as ordinary such as cocaine and morphine
- Category III: narcotics that are medicinal and may contain Category II substances as ingredients subjecting to the regulations stipulated by the authority in charge
- Category IV: narcotics that contain chemicals used to produce Category I or II narcotics including acetyl chloride and acetic anhydride
- Category V: narcotics that are not listed as part of Category I to IV, such as magic mushrooms
Those who violate narcotic or psychotropic substances laws will be subject to punishment according to the Acts and as deemed appropriate by the Thai court. This includes fines and incarceration.
- Psychotropic Substances: As specified in the Act, psychotropic substances refer to natural or synthetic substances with mental or psychological effects as prescribed in the Government Gazette by the Minister. Psychotropic substances are classified into four schedules as follows:
- Schedule I: psychotropic substances that are not used for medical purposes and have a high tendency to be improperly used or abused
- Schedule II: psychotropic substances that are used for medical purposes and have a high tendency to be improperly used or abused
- Schedule III: psychotropic substances that are used for medical purposes and have a moderate tendency to be improperly used or abused
- Schedule IV: psychotropic substances that are used for medical purposes and have less tendency to be improperly used or abused compared to Schedule III substances
Drug Laws in Thailand
One of the issues in Thailand when it comes to drug law enforcement is the large number of prisoners who were incarcerated due to various drug charges from personal abuse cases to drug trafficking. Even with harsh sentences, the effort to suppress narcotic-related offenses did not bear fruit. Consequently, Thai authorities decided to reform the drug law and seek a different approach.
The new drug law aims to provide second chances, particularly to small-scale offenders by emphasizing more on treatments rather than punitive approaches. On the other hand, severe punishments are still in place to eradicate organized drug crimes.
For instance, those who are found guilty of serious drug offenses, such as import, export, manufacture, distribution, or possession of large quantities of drugs in Category I may have to serve up to 15 years in prison and pay a fine of 1.5 million baht. Though the punishment may seem less severe compared to the previous laws, a life sentence or death penalty is still a possible ruling for an individual commanding a drug network.
For those who possess illegal drugs for personal use, rehabilitation is prioritized over prosecution. The individuals are encouraged to attend a treatment facility and undergo rehabilitation depending on the amount of drugs possessed and other conditions. Nonetheless, personal use of drugs remains a criminal offense.
Thailand’s Legalization of Cannabis
Thailand’s recent move to legalize the consumption and cultivation of cannabis and hemp was unforeseen by many.
Cannabis and hemp used to be under Category V of illegal narcotics under Thai law before they were decriminalized. In 2020, the regulations regarding the use of cannabis and hemp became more concrete which led to certain parts of the plants being exempted from narcotics in Category V. Under the notification of the Ministry of Public Health issued in 2022, cannabis and hemp were officially reclassified and removed from the illegal narcotics list, thus, opening doors to the general public and businesses to use these plants for a wide range of purposes.
Even so, the utilization of the plants requires rigorous control and administration by relevant authorities to prevent any misuse. Under the law, cannabis extract must have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of less than 0.2 percent. In addition, penalties for causing public nuisance from the recreational use of cannabis still apply. Offenders may have to serve jail terms or be responsible for a fine.
What is the legal basis for drug-related offences in Thailand?
Provisions for drug-related offences are contained in a raft of laws variously defined in the Measure for Suppressing Narcotic Offenders Act 2534 (1991) as being 'laws governing narcotics and laws governing active materials which have an active effect on the mind and the nerves.' The two most important Acts for practical purposes are the Narcotics Act 2522 (1979) and the Psychotropic Substances Act 2518 (1975).
How do the two acts define various substances?
The Psychotropic Substances Act defines the term "psychotropic substances" as being "such a psychotropic substance which is natural or derived from nature, or synthetic as the Minister notifies in the Government Gazette." Such "psychotropic substances" are classified into 4 categories, known in the Act as Schedules. Commonly known substances falling within the ambit of the Act include the following:
- Schedule 1 – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the active ingredient of cannabis); Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)
- Schedule 2 – Ketamine; Ephedrine; Midazolam (Dormicum, Versed etc.); Triazolam (Halcion)
- Schedule 4 – Alprazolam (Xanax); Diazepam (Valium); Lorazepam (Ativan)
The Narcotics Act defines the term 'narcotics' as being 'any form of chemicals or substances which, upon being consumed whether by taking orally, inhaling, smoking, injecting or by whatever means, causes physiological or mental effect in a significant manner such as need of continual increase of dosage, having withdrawal symptoms when deprived of the narcotics, strong physical and mental need of dosage and health in general being deteriorated…' Substances defined as narcotics are classified into 5 categories (the act also uses the term 'Category' rather than 'Schedule' as used in the Psychotropic Substances Act). Commonly known substances falling within the ambit of the Narcotics Act include the following:
- Category 1 – Heroin;Amphetamine; Methamphetamine; MDMA (Ecstasy); LSD
- Category 2 – Cocaine; Codeine; Methadone; Morphine
- Category 5 – Cannabis; psychoactive mushrooms; Kratom Plant
What are the penalties for unlawful production under the acts?
Under the provisions of Psychotropic Substances Act, the penalties are as follows:For Schedule 1 and 2 Substances:
- Imprisonment of 5-20 years and a fine of 100,000-400,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation sale
- Imprisonment not exceeding 5 years and a fine not exceeding 100,000 Baht for carrying across borders
- Imprisonment of 1-5 years and a fine of 20,000-100,000 Baht for possession, use or consumption
- Imprisonment not exceeding 5 years and a fine not exceeding 100,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation sale
- Imprisonment not exceeding 5 years and a fine not exceeding 100,000 Baht for carrying across borders
- Imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 20,000 Baht or both for possession, use or consumption
Under the provisions of the Narcotics Act, the penalties are as follows:For Category 1 Substances:
- Up to life imprisonment and a fine of 1,000,000-5,000,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation, unless for the purpose of disposal, in which case the penalty is death. The intention to 'dispose' is inferred through quantities defined in the Act
- Up to life imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 – 5,000,000 Baht, or the death penalty, (depending upon the amount of the substance or substances found) for disposal or possession for the purpose of disposal
- Up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of 20,000 – 200,000 Baht for possession. Note again that if the quantity of the substance or substances found exceeds prescribed levels in the act, then possession for the purpose of disposal will be inferred. It should also be noted that 'disposal' is defined in the act as meaning to 'sell, distribute, give away indiscriminately, exchange or give
- Up to 3 years imprisonment or a fine of 10,000 – 60,000 Baht for consumption
- Up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 – 1,000,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation. If the substance or substances found include morphine, opium or cocaine the penalty is increased to imprisonment of 20 years to life and fine of 2,000,000 – 5,000,000 Baht
- Up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 – 200,000 Baht or both for disposal or possession for the purpose of disposal. In the case of morphine, opium or cocaine, 3-20 years or a fine of 60,000 – 400,000 Baht if the amount is under 100 grams, or 3-20 years or a fine of 500,000 – 5,000,000 Baht if over
- Up to 5 years or a fine not exceeding 100,000 Baht or both for possession. If the quantity is 100 grams of a pure substance or more, this will be regarded as possession for the purpose of disposal
- Six months to three years or a fine of 10,000 – 60,000 Baht or both for consumption
- From 2-15 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 – 1,500,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation
- From 2-10 years imprisonment or a fine of 40,000 – 200,000 Baht or both for disposal or possession for the purpose of disposal. If the quantity is over 10 kilograms, the penalty is increased to a maximum of 15 years and a fine of 200,000 – 1,500,000 Baht
- Imprisonment not exceeding 5 years and or a fine not exceeding 100,000 Baht or both for possession
- Imprisonment not exceeding 1 year and a fine of 100,000 – 1,000,000 for consumption
- Imprisonment not exceeding 2 years and a fine not exceeding 200,000 Baht for production, importation or exportation
- Imprisonment not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding 40,000 Baht or both for disposal or possession for the purpose of disposal. If the quantity is over 10 kilograms, the penalty is imprisonment not exceeding 2 years and a fine not exceeding 200,000 Baht
- Imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding 20,000 Baht or both for possession
Imprisonment not exceeding 1 month or a fine not exceeding 2,000 Baht for consumption
Who is charged with overall control of drug enforcement?
The Narcotics Control Act 2519 (1976) designates the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) with overall responsibility for prevention and suppression of illegal drug use in Thailand. The Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) is the body which implements any resolutions of the NCB.
What powers do drug enforcement officials have?
Under provisions of the act, "competent officials" (for most practical purposes, this means the police), have to following powers of stop, search and arrest:
- To enter and search any place or dwelling place, providing they have reasonable grounds to suspect that there is a person or persons who they reasonably suspect to be involved in the commission of offences relating to narcotics on the premises or there are illegal drugs on the premises, or the premises are being used or are intended to be used in the commission of offences involving illegal drugs. Note that the officials must have reasonable grounds to believe that delaying any search in order to obtain a warrant would result in the escape of any suspects, or the substances in question being hidden, destroyed or in some other way "transformed"
- To search any person or vehicle if there are reasonable grounds to suspect they are carrying or hiding illegal drugs
- To enter and search premises without a warrant (having reasonable grounds for suspicion) and order a person or a group of people to undergo "on the spot" drug tests (under provisions of the fifth amendment of the Narcotics Act)
- To arrest any person involved in the commission of any offence related to illegal drugs
- To seize any illegal drugs or any property being used or intending to be used in the commission of offences relating to narcotics or such that may be used in evidence
- To search under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code
- To make inquiries regarding suspects alleged to be involved in offences relating to narcotics
- To issue a letter of enquiry or a summons to any person or official of any Government agency to give a statement or submit an account, document or material for examination
What is the law with regard to conspiracy?
The Act on Measures for the Suppression of Offenders in an Offence relating to Narcotics 2534 (1991) provides that two or more persons conspiring to commit an offence relating to narcotics shall be guilty of conspiracy and if the offence is subsequently committed, shall all be equally liable to the penalty imposed for such offences.
Are there provisions for the forfeiture of assets?
The above act provides for the forfeiture of all "instruments, equipment, conveyances, machineries or any other properties used in the commission of an offence relating to narcotics or used as accessories for producing the consequence of the commission of an offence relating to narcotics or possessed for use in the commission of an offence relating to narcotics," irrespective of whether any person is convicted in relation to any such offences. Authorities may also 'seize, restrain or confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking' in any case, and additionally prosecute offences which took place outside the Kingdom, provided that:
- The offender or any accomplice is a Thai national or has a place of residence in Thailand
- The offender is an alien and intends its consequence to occur within the Kingdom or the Thai Government is the injured person
- The offender is an alien and such act is an offence under the law of the State in the jurisdiction of which the offence is committed, if such offender has appeared in the Kingdom and has not been extradited under the law on extradition
As with other countries in Southeast Asia, being convicted of a drug offense in Thailand is a major deal, particularly for foreigners. If arrested for drug charges, it is crucial to acquire assistance from a qualified Thai lawyer who will be able to provide explanations in your language and help communicate with the authorities.
Siam Legal is experienced in handling various narcotic and illegal drug cases including drug possession for personal use and serious drug offenses. Our attorney will assist you in discussing with the police authority as well as representing you in court. You can rest assured that every legal procedure will be taken care of with utmost professionalism and expertise. Please do not hesitate to contact us for your urgent needs.