Law enforcement approaches and measures used in countering illicit drug problems in Thailand


Measures and guidelines


Author: C. YODMANI
Pages: 23 to 27
Creation Date: 1992/01/01

Law enforcement approaches and measures used in countering illicit drug problems in Thailand

C. YODMANI Police Lieutenant General, Secretary-General, Narcotics Control Board, Bangkok


The Government of Thailand, which has long recognized the serious threat posed by illicit drugs, has implemented stringent law enforcement measures aimed at suppressing illicit drug trafficking by dismantling clandestine laboratories, intercepting essential chemicals, effecting significant seizures and eradicating illicit crops. In addition, the- Government has taken steps to initiate the enactment of legislation providing for the confiscation of proceeds derived from illicit drug trafficking activity. Furthermore, it has maintained and strengthened its already close bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the field of drug abuse control.


Because part of the country lies in the Golden Triangle,* one of the world's largest areas of opium poppy cultivation, Thailand has been faced with serious drug problems. Narcotics are illegally produced from raw opium in refineries along the border between Myanmar and Thailand and are transported from the Golden Triangle to illicit markets outside Thailand.

Thailand has also had to counter problems related to cannabis cultivation. Furthermore, the abuse of various illicit drugs, in particular psychotropic substances and morphine, the principal active ingredient in opium, has reached epidemic levels. There are between 300,000 and 500,000 drug-dependent persons in the country.

Measures and guidelines

The Government of Thailand has made every effort to suppress illicit drug trafficking within and across its borders. It has implemented drug law enforcement measures aimed at seizing or destroying illicit drugs, arresting drug traffickers and drug-dependent persons, and preventing illicit drug trafficking in general. In Thailand, drug law enforcement is the responsibility of various agencies, such as the police, the customs, the Office of the Narcotics Control Board and the Food and Drug Administration. The Government of Thailand has coordinated its drug control efforts with those of Governments and relevant agencies of other countries and with international organizations.

*The area where the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Thailand meet.

In order to enhance the efficiency of Thai drug law enforcement, the following measures and guidelines have been established:

  1. Improvement of drug law enforcement agencies and their personnel:

    1. By streamlining the structure of such agencies;

    2. By increasing the number of staff and equipment;

    3. By promoting the knowledge and capability of drug law enforcement officers at all levels through training;

  2. Development of the intelligence system:

    1. By enabling the narcotics intelligence centre to act also as a centre for coordination;

    2. By enhancing the intelligence system of all concerned law enforcement agencies;

    3. By strengthening close cooperation and coordination of law enforcement agencies in information exchange;

    4. By developing communications systems among all concerned agencies in order to facilitate field operations;

  3. Acceleration of investigation and arrest-

    1. By intercepting illicit drugs;

    2. By establishing an efficient coordination system;

    3. By cooperating closely with anti-narcotics agencies in international drug control activities;

  4. Improvement of narcotic acts and regulations:

    1. By revising and amending existing acts and regulations and increasing penalties for drug offenders;

    2. By introducing special measures and regulations to bring major drug traffickers to justice.


Suppression of narcotic drugs

Large quantities of various types of drugs and chemicals used in the production of narcotics are seized each year. Law enforcement officers have made considerable progress in disrupting illicit traffic; for example, the number of drug offenders arrested rose from 35,974 in 1986 to 54,464 in 1988.

In February 1988 a record seizure of 1,086 kg of heroin was made at Bangkok Seaport. The consignment, concealed in 62 bales of rubber sheets, was to be shipped to the United States of America through Singapore.

Suppression of illicit drug production at its source

The Government of Thailand has constantly implemented strong measures against illicit drug refineries scattered along the border between Myanmar and Thailand. The refineries within Thai territory, located in mountainous terrain to which access is limited, are small and easy to move. Special missions have been dispatched regularly to destroy the' refineries. In 1988, for example, 6 of the estimated .20 refineries located along the border were dismantled. Despite those efforts, the production capacity of the refineries has increased.

Eradication of opium poppy cultivation

Various projects for crop substitution and highland development have been launched and, consequently, the standard of living of the hill-tribe growers of the opium poppy has improved. Eradication measures have been, carried out since 1984, especially in areas where opium poppy cultivation has continued to thrive. As a result of such crop-substitution and eradication measures, opium production has fallen in recent years.

Cannabis eradication

Illicit cannabis is grown mainly in remote areas of northeastern Thailand. The illicit cannabis-growing areas have expanded to include various provinces in the central and southern parts of the country.

Only eradication measures are used against cannabis cultivation because the nature of the problem is different from that of opium poppy cultivation. Cannabis is more profitable than any other cash crop. And cannabis growers, unlike growers of the opium poppy, are aware that they are engaged in an illegal activity.

Interception of chemicals used in the production of illicit drugs

The Government of Thailand has made efforts to intercept certain chemicals used in the production of illicit drugs in northern and southern provinces of the country. Acetic anhydride and acetyl chloride have been included in Schedule IV of the Narcotics Act of 1979. Recently, it was found that other types of licit chemicals, such as glacial acetic acid and ethilidine diacetate, were being used instead of acetic anhydride. The use of ethylidine has considerably increased and, for that reason, it has been included in Schedule IV of the Narcotics Act. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are sometimes used in the production of amphetamines, have been classified as psychotropic substances and listed in Schedule III of the Psychotropic Substances Act of 1975.

Adoption of drug legislation

According to Thai law, the possession, production, manufacture, import, export or acquisition of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances without legal permission is punishable by a fine, imprisonment or the death penalty, depending on the quantity of drugs involved and on the criminal offence committed.

The main drug laws currently in effect in Thailand are as follows:

  1. (a) >Psychotropic Substances Act of 1975. The promulgation of the Psychotropic Substances Act was the result of Thailand having become a party to the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 [1] . The Psychotropic Substances Act establishes measures for controlling natural and synthetic substances, such as hallucinogens, stimulants and depressants, and classifies psychotropics into four schedules;

  2. (a) >Narcotics Control Act of 1976. The Narcotics Control Act has given the Narcotics Control Board the responsibility of devising drug control plans and measures and. of coordinating the implementation of that Act by all agencies concerned. The Office of the Narcotics Control Board carries out the decisions and policies of the Board;

  3. (a) >Narcotics Act of 1979. The Narcotics Act classifies narcotics into five categories and specifies special measures for controlling the production, import, export, disposal, and possession for disposal of narcotics. It provides a means of determining the severity of a drug offence based on the quantity of drugs involved. The Narcotics Act lists opium as a narcotic in Schedule 11 and opium seeds as a narcotic in Schedule V. The penalty for opium is as severe as that for morphine and cocaine.

Thailand has taken steps to introduce new legislation on the confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking. The new legislation will empower the authorities to freeze the assets of suspected drug traffickers during judicial proceedings; if they are found guilty, the court will order the forfeiture of their assets.

Signing of international treaties

Thailand is a party not only to the 1971 Convention, but also to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol [2] and to the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 [3] .

The Government of Thailand has signed a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters with the Government of the United States to help facilitate the transfer of evidence in criminal matters, including drug-related offences. Bilateral treaties that make drug trafficking an extraditable offence have been concluded with a number of countries.


A drug intelligence centre has been established at the Office of the Narcotics Control Board in order to gather and analyse information from various sources. Its efficiency has been improved by the use of computers. The centre cooperates with other agencies in sharing intelligence both within the country and abroad.

Drug law enforcement training

In Thailand, drug law enforcement training is considered an important element in the suppression of illicit drug trafficking in that it increases the knowledge and understanding of new techniques and methods, provides an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and experiences, and promotes the coordination of drug law enforcement efforts. Each year hundreds of drug law enforcement officers from different units participate in training courses on subjects such as the development of teamwork, the collection of intelligence, and methods of analysis.

Thailand has been designated as the regional training centre for drug law enforcement officers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Office of the Narcotics Control Board has organized numerous training courses for ASEAN drug law enforcement officers since 1980.

International cooperation

Drug law enforcement agencies in Thailand, realizing that one country alone cannot begin to solve the problem of drug trafficking, attach great importance to international cooperation. Close coordination and collaboration with drug law enforcement officers from other countries are maintained by exchanging information and intelligence and by undertaking joint operations. At present, drug liaison officers from the following countries or areas are stationed in Thailand: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America.

Cooperation involving the South-East Asian Liaison Office of ICPO/ Interpol at Bangkok and national law enforcement agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States, has resulted in many significant arrests and major seizures both in Thailand and abroad.


Thailand recognizes the serious threat posed by illicit drugs and has made every effort to intercept the traffic in narcotic drugs. Thailand has benefited greatly from its close cooperation with other countries and with international organizations. The adoption of the 1988 Convention has marked the beginning of a new era in the fight against illicit drug trafficking. Thailand looks forward to participating further in efforts of the world community to promote the implementation of that Convention.



United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1019, No. 14956.


Ibid., vol. 976, No. 14152.


United Nations publication, Sales No. E.91.XI.6.