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PHUKET: The recent arrest by Region 8 Police of two men for posing as officers of the law and trying to extort money from the families of teenage boys found drinking krathom leaf extract is just the latest reminder of the need for Thailand to reconsider and revise its draconian drug control laws.

It might strike some as futile to urge a military government to take such measures, but in reality there has never been a better time for Thailand to move forward in this regard. It is encouraging that the current government is the first in our memory to have floated the possibility of such reforms, but it is equally discouraging that it has yet to effect any real changes.

In many ways the current administration has just maintained and extended the policies of its elected predecessors, with the seldom-enforced yet supremely annoying alcohol sales time restriction measures brought in by Thaksin coming as just the most obvious example.

If the theme was “Bring happiness back to the people”, why can’t we legally purchase a can of beer at a 7-Eleven between the hours of 2pm and 5pm?

Despite having some of the harshest drug laws on the planet, Thailand has over the years managed to consolidate its international reputation as a recreational drug paradise. It is perhaps a sad fact that this comes in second only to its reputation as a sex tourism destination, though of course the two themes very often run hand-in-hand.

From the hallucinogenic, drug-fuelled ‘Full Moon Parties’ on Koh Tao to the heroin-soaked back sois of Bangkok’s Khaosarn Road, the entire range of recreational drugs are cheap and readily available to any and all willing to indulge.

Krathom and marijuana are both ‘Category 5’ drugs that are among the most widely used drugs in Thailand, after state-sanctioned substances like alcohol and caffeine. Both are relatively harmless drugs with medically-proven medicinal effects, a fact which has prompted many governments around the globe to decriminalize them or even make their sale legal, providing new sources of taxable revenue in the process.

Yet here in Thailand, these substances serve as just two more devices in the extortionists’ toolbox – and from the victim’s standpoint it does not always matter whether the extortionists are state officials or sad imposters thereof.