Thailand hasn’t always been a strict country as it pertains to drug laws. However, since Thailand announced its War on Drugs, the country’s police force control and manage drug use with an iron fist. Unless you think a few years in a Thai jail would make for a neat story to tell the grandkids, our official advice is to avoid all substances.
What are the drug laws in Thailand? Bottom line – Thailand has strict drug laws. While access to myriad drugs may be prevalent throughout the country, it’s not safe to consume. If you are caught you can expect to pay a bribe of $1000 (if you are lucky). Most Westerners get serious jail time.
Movies like The Hangover 2 present Thailand as the partying crux of the world. While at one time these portrayals may have represented an accurate view of the country’s openness to chemically induced experiences, the reality is now far from it.
Prevalence of Drugs
The legal enforcement of drugs seems to be at odds with how often you will encounter these drugs in your experiences in Thailand. You will likely smell marijuana while in Thailand. Whether in a popular bar district or in the back room of your hostel, you’ll encounter it.
Many bars in the southern islands actually sell marijuana and mushroom milkshakes on their official laminated menus. ‘Happy Pizzas’ are also seen advertised in restaurants. When you see the word ‘happy’ next to a food item, chances are that marijuana has been infused into the recipe. After all, the world famous Thai boat noodles commonly included cannabis as a spice to add flavor to the dish.
While there’s a solid chance that nothing bad will happen to you, it’s important to recognize that you’re out of your element. You don’t understand the difference between what is safe and hidden use vs what is being an overly brazen and cocky tourist.
Khao San Road in Bangkok is an extremely popular bar district. Barely legal pharmacies operate next door to these bars. It’s quite possible to purchase pharmaceuticals like Valium from these shady operations but you should recognize that you don’t know their origin. As such, you can’t ensure that what you are consuming is quality (or real).
Most drug-related arrests in Thailand stem from the possession of yaba/ice, marijuana, and opium. Thai locals are more likely to be arrested for yaba, while tourists and backpackers are more likely to be arrested for marijuana or heroin. There are 5 narcotics categories in Thailand:
Category 1 includes heroin, amphetamines, and meth (known locally as Yaba or Ice).
Category 2 consists of morphine, cocaine, ketamine, opium, methadone, and more.
Category 3 are medicinal drugs.
Category 4 are chemicals used in making Category 1 and 2 narcotics.
Category 5 includes marijuana, kratom, and psilocybin mushrooms.
If you’re caught with possession for the personal use of any category 1 substance, you’ll be sentenced to 1-10 years in jail and have to pay a hefty fine. If you’re carrying more than 20 grams, you’re eligible for the death penalty. Though, no drug-related executions have occurred in the country since 2009. Lately the government ‘rounds down’ these penalties to a life sentence.
There is no potential death sentence for those arrested due to marijuana possession/intent to sell. If arrested for this, you don’t have to worry about being stoned to death. Personal use penalties reach up to five years imprisonment and a fine reaching 100,000 Baht. The same is true with drugs like cocaine or ketamine.
If you have a prescription for Adderall, think twice before bringing it into the country. All amphetamines are considered illegal and are never allowed into Thailand. Your prescription means nothing here.
The penalties associated with drug use in Thailand vary greatly. The severity of your sentence depends on your past legal history, the country you hail from, the personal whims and judgment of your arresting officer, and the quantity/type of drugs you are holding.
It goes without saying that possession is a dangerous game to play while in the military police state of Thailand. Though, the definition of possession has some odd meanings here. If you have traces of the drug in your urine, this counts as a possession charge to a Thai police officer.
Many backpackers have heard of instances where the local reggae bar gets raided at midnight. While full of patrons, police surround the building and lock all the doors. They mandate that nobody is allowed to leave until they have taken and passed a drug test. This type of behavior is infrequent. It usually occurs when the bar owners fail to pay monthly bribes to the local police department.
Any law enforcement official has the grounds to detain you and request authorization to drug test you. If you refuse to take the drug test, your refusal can result in jail time of up to six months and a fine of several hundred dollars.
Be respectful around the police. A bow while looking at the ground can go a long way if you find yourself in legal trouble (though, it’s unlikely to save you). Remember that the police in Thailand target specific races for suspected drug use. If you are black or you have dreadlocks/long hair, there’s a much higher likelihood of being targeted.
What To Do If Arrested?
Most online advice columns recommend instantly trying to bribe the arresting officer (normally in the amount of $500-$1000 USD). Assuming this is handled quickly and without fuss, this is rumored to be a successful way out in most scenarios.
If arrested, contact the embassy of your home country. It’s important to remember that your consulate office has zero ability to sway the court findings of a Thai judge. The most they can do is help put you in touch a law firm in Thailand that specializes in drug cases for foreigners.
There is no ‘Better Business Bureau’ for the police in Thailand. You will have nobody to complain to should you be mistreated. Remember this before saying yes when a random stranger whispers the word ‘yaba’ to you on a street corner.
Legalization of Medical Marijuana
The drug experience in Thailand is full of conundrums. Recent articles have come out implying that medical marijuana will soon be legalized in the country. Chances are, this won’t impact how the police treat suspected pot-smoking tourists in their country.
By many counts, the War on Drugs in every country has failed. Your interpretation of this failure doesn’t mean a Thai police officer will hold the same views as you. We can hold out hope that future policing will steer towards the direction of rehabilitation and away from punishment. In Thailand, this isn’t the case yet. You should act accordingly.
Thailand has the largest prison population in Southeast Asia. There are actually so many jailed foreigners that the Thai prison system holds a World Cup soccer tournament every year. Don’t be one more tourist who just wanted a cool story. Nothing is cool about Thai prison conditions.
Can you chew gum in Thailand
You are allowed to chew gum in Thailand (Singapore is the only Asian country where this is illegal). If you spit your gum on the ground in a public walkway, Thai police can certainly fine you for littering. Be respectful and ensure you properly dispose of your gum.
Is smoking allowed in Thailand?
In an attempt to curb littering and promote tourism, the Thai government introduced a smoking ban on certain beaches in the southern islands. While many Thai locals will ignore these laws, foreigners should follow the rules. Failure to adhere to these laws can result in a serious fine and up to a year in prison.