Cocaine in Thailand
A few months ago, a young Western backpacker was picked up by Thai police for smoking marijuana on the street curb in the middle of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. When arrested by the police, the tourist was overheard protesting and yelling out that Thailand was “free” and he was doing “nothing wrong.” No matter how you feel about marijuana, it is important to know that it is considered an illegal drug in Thailand and possession or distribution of it is a criminal offense. Areas of Bangkok like Khao San Road, Patong and Nana, which are popular destinations for young tourists, are heavily watched by uniformed and undercover Thai police looking for drug use and transactions.
Narcotics Categories in Thailand
I – heroin, amphetamines (ecstasy), methamphetamines (Yaba and Ice)
II – morphine, cocaine, ketamine, codeine, opium and medicinal opium, methadone
III – medicinal drugs which legally contain Category II ingredients
IV – chemicals used to make Category I and II narcotics, like anhydride and acetyl chloride
V – marijuana, the Kratom plant, hallucinogenic mushroom
Possessing and Consuming Drugs in Thailand
Thailand’s top 4 drug possession cases in the last three years have been related to the following drugs: Yaba, dried marijuana, Ice, raw opium. The cases of Yaba possession, a popular methamphetamine, exceed any of the others, with 30,031 allegations of Yaba possession alone in 2008. Since Yaba is a methamphetamine, if you are caught with possession for personal use of it or any other Category I substance, you could risk one to ten years in prison and/or a fine of twenty thousand to two hundred thousand baht. If you are caught carrying more than twenty grams of Yaba (or any other Category I drug, like Ice or Ecstasy) you’ll be eligible for ‘intent to sell’ penalties, the most severe of which is the death penalty.
While Yaba is a drug commonly abused and sold by Thai citizens, marijuana and heroin are more likely to be found on backpackers and tourists. Heroin, like Yaba, is a Category I drug and carries the aforementioned penalties. Neither marijuana possession for personal use nor intent to sale carries the death penalty. However, if you have up to ten kilograms of marijuana (or any other Category V drug) in your possession, you are liable for personal use penalties, which are up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to one hundred thousand baht.
Cocaine is also a drug purchased by tourists in Thailand. Category II drugs, like cocaine and the smuggled drugs ketamine and codeine, are considered for illegal personal use in any amount of one hundred grams or less and punishable with up to five years in prison and/or up to one hundred thousand baht.
Category II drugs can be considered legal drugs if you carry a medical certificate or prescription written by a licensed medical doctor or dentist; or if you have applied for and been granted a permit by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before your arrival in Thailand. Even with a certificate, prescription or FDA permit, you are only allowed to enter Thailand with an amount of medication for thirty days use or less. Amphetamines, Dexamphetamine, Cannabis, THC, and Cathinone are always considered illegal and never allowed in and out of Thailand whether you have obtained medical permission or not. See the Customs section for more information about declaring prescription medications upon entry to and exit from Thailand.
The term “Club drugs” is also getting the attention of Thai authorities in recent years. These drugs include: ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine and Ice. Police are known to randomly raid nightclubs that turn a blind eye to drug use and dealing, and that are frequented by young foreign tourists and/or young Thais.
Possession aside, if a law enforcement official has grounds to believe you have taken a Category I, II or V narcotic, he or she can detain you and request authorization to test you. Refusing a test or examination can result in imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to ten thousand baht.
You can face imprisonment from six months to three years and/or a fine of ten thousand to sixty thousand baht if you test positive for a Category I or II drug, like Yaba, cocaine, Ice or ecstasy; and imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to twenty thousand baht if you test positive for a Category V drug, like marijuana or Kratom. There are laws protecting you If you take drugs and feel like you are dangerously disoriented or at risk for overdose and then choose to check yourself into a medical facility. If you are able to check into a medical facility before being caught by a law enforcement official and you have not broken any Thai laws other than consuming drugs, you are eligible to be excused from penalties.
Selling and Smuggling
West Africans living in Thailand are randomly investigated by the Immigration Bureau and Thai drug enforcement agencies for selling drugs and organizing drug smuggling operations. The Immigration Bureau identifies West Africans from Nigeria, Mali and Ghana, and the East Africa Republic of Kenya as foreigners watched closely for connections to drug activity. Other groups of foreigners suspected of drug activity in Thailand are Southeast Asian Chinese, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis, and Nepalese. Iranian groups have been recently investigated for smuggling Ice into Thailand through international airports. The northern border of Thailand is the most frequently used route for drug smuggling followed by borders along the Mekong River and international airports.
Foreign women traveling alone in Thailand should be especially aware that drug smugglers often use females to carry drugs within the country and over borders. There have even been instances of women unknowingly accepting and carrying packages or suitcases containing drugs across land borders and through international airports.
For more information on the consequences of drug smuggling, please refer to the Arrested in Thailand section.