Thai cops are the major players in the national drug business, on both sides of the law; police corruption in Thailand is so rife its infamy is global. This means that if you get involved with drugs out there you have to be aware of the law, and also aware that, if you are caught, the cops will try and scare as much money out of you as possible hoping that you are ignorant of their laws.
Under the terms of their Narcotics Act of 2522 (1979) marijuana is a category 5 narcotic. This law states that producers, exporters and importers are liable for imprisonment of two to fifteen years and/or a fine of 200,000 to 1.5 million baht (Section 75).
Supply and possession with intent to supply (10kg or less) is punishable with a stretch of 2 to 10 years and/or a fine of 40,000 to 200,000 baht. If you are caught with more than 10kg then you'll be looking at 2 to 15 years with a fine of 200,000 to 1.5 million baht (Section 76/1).
Straight possession is a maximum of five years inside and/or a fine of up to 100,000 baht (Section 76).
It's also worth knowing that the police have the right to question, detain, search premises and person, and seize any properties of people suspected of involvement with drugs. Dreadlocks, long hair, being black, giving them a ‘funny look', or even just walking down the pavement in view of them are all reasons for them to suspect you of involvement with drugs.
At the end of 2010 the Prime Minister announced a new year-long war on drugs for 2011, and he's given the cops a target of reducing crime in Bangkok by 20% this year. An immediate result of this new war on drugs is the police cranking up the use of their stop and search powers; tourists with a bit of weed are known to be an easy and rewarding target for them even though pot is not a major social, economic or political issue out here, especially when it's compared to smack, ice and the more common ya-ba (methamphetamine).
If you spend a bit of open-eared time on the streets of Bangkok you'll hear plenty of horror stories: people get nicked for the possession of seeds and scared into paying thousand dollar fines; people get stopped, searched, and have drugs planted on them by cops who then take them to a cash machine and empty their accounts. A lot of people who get caught with a bit of percy are also taken to the ATM to have their accounts raided instead of going through the cop shop. Tipped-off police knock on the doors of rooms in guest houses and bust people for smoking a joint, these people are then scared into paying bribes of 500 to 800 US dollars, each.
Cops can and will use the piss-test weapon as well. Stories of bars and clubs being raided were common during the last drug war and you can bet your favourite pipe they'll start up again this year - the cops barge in, lock the doors and piss-test everyone. A positive test is classed as possession...
A couple of months ago, before the new drug war was announced and just after smoking a joint in the privacy of my apartment, I was eating noodle soup with a friend at an on-the-pavement restaurant. A serious looking Thai guy pulled out the chair across the table from me, sat down, introduced himself as an off-duty cop, showed us his ID, ordered some food and started asking me questions. At first I thought he just wanted to practice his English but his questions got a bit strange; he asked if I was drug addict, if I had any food allergies, where I lived, what I was doing in Thailand and a few other intrusive questions. I answered him, but I refused to let him bully me by throwing a few of my own intrusive questions back at him. All of a sudden, the guy stared me straight in the eye and said:
"I piss test you, now."
"I piss test you, now."
"What?" I feigned misunderstanding, "You wanna see my dick?"
My mate, who'd been away with the fairies, heard the change in the tone of the conversation and snapped back around from his street-watching:
"Get up mate, we're out of here, this guys a freak - he wants to see my dick."
The look on the cops face was priceless; he still had his noodle soup in front of him and he was too taken aback to react as I paid my bill and hurried off down the street with my mate. I shot him a look that told him I thought he was a disgusting pervert as I walked past him, that kept him rooted long enough for us to escape. It was a close one though - I'd have lost my job, a good deal of cash and my visa if I hadn't had my wits about me and gone on the offensive.
You also have to keep your eyes open for the DEA, Interpol, and ‘other' western cops in Thailand. Not only are they operating in the main tourist hotspots of Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Chiang Mai and Phuket, but they're not bound by the procedures of home - they operate under Thai law, which, if you're a cop, is tantamount to making your own law up as you go along.
The general rule of thumb out here is that if you do get busted then you should keep your cool and pay off the cops as early as possible because the more cops who know about it then the bigger the ‘fine' that you have to pay. Don't let them bully you though, make them respect you - stand strong, don't panic, apologise profusely and admit your stupidity. Wai them high (put your hands in a prayer position, hold them to your forehead and look at the ground) and offer them a few thousand baht if you've only been caught with a few joints. Be warned though, if they don't like you they'll screw you hard.
It's a well-known fact that a lot of the drugs on the streets out here go through the hands of the cops first; there is a very recent story of a girl who got nicked with some seeds, paid a hefty fine and then got told on the doorstep of police station, by the cop who nicked her, "If you want some good stuff you should come and see me!"
Whilst spending some time on Koh Phangan, the home of the full moon parties, I was chatting to a local who was bagging up a kilo to sell to tourists. I asked him where the weed came from, meaning Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar... His answer made me laugh; "It comes from Had Rin Police!"
When you're in Thailand you also have to be wary of stitch ups. Tuk Tuk drivers are famous for this - they'll sell you some weed and then tell their cop friends who'll turn up and bust you, the informant gets a cut of the bribe. This tuk tuk scam all but disappeared for a few years, but since the start of 2011s new drug war you can, once again, hear the odd tuk tuk driver whispering "mareewahnaah" when you walk past him.
Bitter ex-girlfriends are a common problem too. People get grassed up by exes and then nicked, piss tested and banged up or fined. I have a (Thai) friend who is currently suffering from this fate - he got locked up for 45 days, but instead of letting him out at the end of it they carted him off to a military-style boot camp. He's been there for 2 months now and no one knows when they'll let him out. The embittered ex also found out where his new (English) girlfriend worked, rang the school, accused her of taking drugs and having a boyfriend in prison for drugs and she lost her job - even though she was completely innocent. If you've been grassed on by someone who knows a cop and the cop is doing them a favour then you just have to take what's coming to you - this spiteful revenge-seeking cow wanted her ex locked up and got a cop friend of hers to nick him, no amount of money that he was capable of rustling up was going to buy his freedom.
It's not only the real cops you have to worry about either. Recent reports in the Bangkok Post told of fake police raiding and extorting tourists in Pattaya!
When you look at the statistics (of the Narcotics Control Board of Thailand) you can see that marijuana busts have been increasing since 2004. One interesting note is that there were 10,842 cases in 2008 and 12,898 in 2009, in spite of this 20-odd per cent rise in cases the actual amount of marijuana seized dropped from 18,894kg to 17,534kg: this shows that more small time folk are being targeted. Statistics in this country are useless for telling the whole story though; a huge amount of cases never make it on to the official statistics because they're dealt with unofficially.
You have to think of the quality and the price as well... Most Thai weed is not grown very well, it is often heavily fertilised, heavily seeded, and wrapped up in plastic before it is dry so a lot of it is mouldy: good quality ganja out here is a rarity. If you know someone safe, local and connected you should be able to get a good score of 10g for around 100 baht - that's the local price. Even so, your chances of knowing someone that safe, that local and that connected are pretty slim, or absolutely zero if it's your first time in the country. For quality smoke, the best time of year is the end of the dry season and just after (March/April/May), but when you're scoring grass in Thailand you should be prepared for frequent disappointment.
If you or someone you know is coming to Thailand and fancies getting stoned then be warned - you are an easy target and in 2011 you are, again, a prime target. The cops out here are not paid well, they have to buy their own motorbikes, guns and promotions, and they're dirty bastards. A lot of them don't like us tourists being here either; as far as they're concerned we come out here, throw our money around, insult their cultural sensibilities and steal their women - they enjoy busting us and emptying our pockets. So, if you get caught then check you're dealing with real cops, be strong and be cool - yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, admit your stupidity and make sure you've got a fast and ready bribe whenever you and weed are in the same place at the same time. If you're clean and you get stopped and searched for no apparent reason though, ask a passer-by to be a witness for you and don't be afraid to have a go at them for their bullying tactics - tell them their corruption is world famous, and that you were warned about them before you came out here, but beware of the piss test!