Research Notes

Graffiti in Chiang Mai that has nothing to do with anything

Graffiti in Chiang Mai that has nothing to do with anything

I spent part of last Friday night discussing drug policy with a grad student, a researcher, and people who habitually smoke marijuana cigarettes (reefer).

It was part of research. A grad student friend has been working on drug law reform for years and I had been looking into it since I saw someone get arrested for possession some time ago.

One guy told us he got arrested and shaken down for P30,000 over a discarded twig that had barely any bud on it. A college-age kid, he said the village watchman and the police officers threatened to tell his parents about the arrest, a threat he said works often. “They’ll really scare you with that,” he said in Filipino.

He was lucky he was able to cough up money. Another guy, who couldn’t, was sentenced to eight years in prison over a confiscated joint. That guy got out a few months ago. “He’s just around. Sometimes he works as a runner (for drugs). They just made his life worse,” one of our new friends said.

Another was held in Pasay and lost money, a mobile phone, and a digital camera to police. A bouncer at an event had caught him with drug paraphernalia and he was promptly turned over to local police.  He said the police officers he dealt with left him just enough to get home to Quezon City. He’d have gone home with less if he didn’t shoot them a dirty look for leaving him so little.

Across the house we were in was a house that a group of young policemen assigned to a nearby precinct lived. I could two of them through the window as we talked. More senior officers lived down the street.

“They don’t mind as long as we don’t go wild,” one guy says.  They’d been busted before, but for drinking in front of the house and only because it was election season and the police were extra strict.

Talk strays to reforms and an apparent lack of organization towards any attempt at decriminalizing much less legalizing marijuana. There are a handful of festivals and events close to April 20 but they are closer to parties than political events. There is ostensibly a group at the forefront of the movement but its members have mostly been dormant.

Certainly nothing on the level of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in the U.S.

The kids we were talking to were willing to hold educational talks and print shirts and stickers but they said they wouldn’t want to be the face of the movement.

They will need one, though. A recent news feature on marijuana had, according to the kids we were talking to, had an eccentric artist type speak for marijuana users.

“We’re not like that. We’re just regular people,” one of them said.

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