By Peter Maguire
For decades, Thailand was one of America’s most resolute allies in the war on drugs. After zero tolerance policies left the Kingdom with the highest rate of incarceration in Asia and a methamphetamine (ya ba) epidemic that not even the most draconian measures could stop, Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya shocked the nation in 2016 when he conceded that “the world has lost the war on drugs.” Not only did he suggest legalizing methamphetamine, Koomchaya urged his countrymen to view the drug epidemic through the lens of public health, rather than law enforcement. Today, many hope that this new laissez-faire approach will lead to the legalization of the legendary marijuana that was once among the Kingdom’s most famous and valuable exports.
After the United States built military bases in Thailand during the 1960s and stationed tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers there, the marijuana industry exploded and cheap, powerful pot became as readily available as beer.
“They tie together. Put the stick. Make it nice. Sell for GI easy. One, two, or five for one dollar,” recalled a Thai smuggler who got his start selling pot to U.S. soldiers. “Whatever place GI go, it started whenever they need.”
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