I was in the island of Koh Pha-ngan, where I planned to do a yoga course at Agama, a well-known yoga centre with branches all over the world. Once I was there, I wasn’t quite feeling the vibe and decided to make a move. One of my dorm roomies at Mythai Guest house, a young woman from Zürich, Switzerland, recommend Koh Phayam, a small island in the Andaman Sea near the city of Ranong. The city of Ranong, has not much of interest, but is on the travellers trail nevertheless as a gateway to reach nearby islands or to go to Myanmar, either to visit the country or to do a visa run.
The Chill of Koh Phayam and Trouble in Paradise
Koh Phayam, as I was informed by Swiss chick Stephanie, is very chilled. There are no cars on the island and one can explore the beaches, jungle and/or attend a party if one feels in the mood. The island seems to attract a more mature crowd, with 30-plus being the norm and it is popular with young hippy and hipster families. Quite a few western foreigners have made Koh Phayam their home for at least parts of the year. Although you can easily avoid it if your not in the mood, you can have a decent party on the island including the ‘necessary’ intoxicating means. Although drugs like weed, ecstasy and MDMA are illegal and possession of even small quantities can lead to stiff penalties, they are easy to get, once you know where to look. Koh Phayam never had any issues with the police interfering with islanders drug consumption and the odd visit from Ranong police would immediately be tipped off. So last half-moon people attended a party at Long Beach at the southwestern corner of the island without a care in the world. Until the beach was raided by the military. I wasn’t there- luckily- and only heard the story from other people, most of whom weren’t there either, but the story was the talk of the island for several days as you can imagine. What happened is that the military- not the police, but the military, mind you- entered the beach with sniffer dogs. All those, who couldn’t get away and in possession of illegal intoxicating means, were arrested. Others were made to pee to be drug tested and if the test turned out positive, you were taken away. This means that even those who were not in possession of any sweets, weren’t using anything, so didn’t violate any laws in that sense, but had just arrived from another country, where they had been indulging, could’ve been arrested. In total 45 people were apprehended and put in jail. One Dutch guy, who just had a couple of puffs from a joint, was thrown in jail, humiliated, told he had to ‘serve’ four months, not given access to any information or even a lawyer and luckily released after paying a 50,000 baht fine with the help of a Koh Phayam local, who owned the Ranong police chef a favour. This stuff is terribly fucked up on multiple levels.
First of all, this could have been me or almost any of my friends, who like to indulge now and again and especially when they are on holiday in such idyllic settings. Now, you could be a bit more square and might think; the law is the law and you need to obey it, especially if you are in a foreign country. I’m not arguing in favour of dissing a foreign culture and its rules, yet I think a clear distinction needs to be made, anywhere in the world, between legality and morality, which are not one and the same. During my lifetime Apartheid was legal, yet, most of us would agree, morally wrong. In Saudi Arabia women are still not allowed to drive a car. This is finally about to change in June of this year. Yet, grown Saudi women still can’t open a bank account, get a passport or even have some types of surgery without the permission of a male ‘guardian’. This is the law, but, in terms of our idea of equality, unjust. You might think, that is just the past or some backward nation. However, meanwhile in Europe, constitutional monarchies like the Netherlands and the UK still uphold the law of lèse majesté. This means that insulting the monarch, an unelected individual, who is the head of state, not based on any skills, but on her or his bloodline, is a criminal offence. So much for equality and freedom of speech.
The Case against the War on Drugs
With the exception of a few countries, drugs laws and policies are not treated as a health issue, but as a political and economic issue. The drugs that are most dangerous and cause the most harm, alcohol and pharmaceuticals are legal in most countries. Cannabis is used recreationally world-wide and is known to be a tremendously effective natural medicine in the treatment of a whole range of conditions like sleeplessness, arthritis and MS. No one has ever died, as far as we known, as a direct result from cannabis usage. Yet illegal it is.
The war on drugs, being waged world-wide, takes far more casualties than the drugs themselves. An estimated 1 per cent of all drugs on the market are confiscated. One percent! So much for effectiveness. Talking of war, the raid on Long Beach in Koh Phayam, was executed by the military and not the police, which can be considered state-muscle flexing on steroids. What threat to national security do a small group of intoxicated revellers on a far-out beach form exactly?
I acknowledge that there is a lot of nastiness going on in the drug trade and that drug abuse is the cause of great problems for individuals and whole communities alike. I believe that a majority of those problems have to do with poverty, a lack of information and the illegal status of drugs, of which real criminals take advantage. Countries with the most progressive drug laws have the least problems with drug-related crime, diseases and other problems. Also, these countries have considerably less users. Drug usage is a moral issue. If I own my own body, who is the state to deny me the right to mess with my own body, if I choose to intoxicate myself without infringing on someone else’s freedom and rights? (Some) people like to mind other people’s business. The state should stop being the nosiest of them all.