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Law, Life and Society: The real cost of incarceration

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Law, Life and Society: The real cost of incarceration | The Thaiger

PHUKET: Last month, Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya announced that methamphetamine will be removed from the list of Category 1 hard narcotics. It was met with controversy but it is a welcome change to a policy that has devastated Thai society.

According to the Corrections Department, Thailand has a prison population of 371,347 which is the 8th largest prison population in the world and accounts for about 40 per cent of the those incarcerated in Southeast Asia. About 70 per cent of the Thai prison population is in for drug related crimes.

The most commonly used illegal methamphetamine is ya bah. It is generally taken orally, but can also be inhaled or injected. The drug is addictive and habit forming. It is a stimulant that can keep users awake for days and generate hallucinations. The drug is harmful, but being found guilty of possession of ya bah can be more destructive. When ya bah was categorized as a hard narcotic, a finding of guilt could result in up to 10 years in prison.

It is generally accepted that incarceration is required by a civil society to maintain order and protection from individuals whose release could be dangerous to the general public. But there is a cost to incarceration. With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up, the public is required to expend large amounts of financial resources to house, feed and supervise them, as well as provide health services. These financial resources should be redirected to preventing serious crimes like violence, theft, embezzlement, and other crimes with victims.

There is also a social cost to incarceration. Men and women are taken away from their community, friends and family, resulting in a social void. Families are disrupted. Children are without their parents. Men and women are without their spouses or loved ones. Parents are left without their children. Without the family unit, there is a reduction in household income, as well as an increase in poverty, parentless children and unsupported elderly. In addition, the fear of incarceration prevents some drug abusers from seeking assistance for their addiction.

We are not saying that Thailand should get rid of jails or prisons. However, the law should take into account the social and economic costs of incarcerating non-violent drug offenders. Community service and treatment is a better alternative for those convicted of the use of narcotics. Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has moved in the right direction.

There should be examination of other prohibited drugs to see if alternative penalties would be a better option in light of the social and financial costs of incarceration.

Until the law changes, foreigners visiting or living in Thailand should not consume illegal narcotics or be in situations where they can be a victim of a drug scam. There are multiple cases of foreigners claiming that they have had drugs planted on them for extortion purposes. We personally know of an Australian man who was in a hotel room with a girl in a red light area when the police entered the room. The police claimed that he was in possession of illegal drugs, which they found hidden in the room.

The threat of incarceration in Thailand’s overcrowded jails is an easy tool for extortion. My advice for foreigners is to stay away from using illegal drugs, excessive drinking and red light areas.

For foreigners who ignore this advice, they should keep the phone number of a trusted local English-speaking criminal attorney and the number of their local embassy with them. Following an arrest, signing documents or making pleas without understanding the language or consequences can result in long-term imprisonment.

Additional reporting by Yutthachai Sangsirisap

Robert R Virasin is a licenced US attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. Yutthachai Sangsirisap is a licenced Thai Attorney at Virasin & Partners. They can be reached at [email protected] or their website virasin.com.

— Robert R Virasin

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Thai Life

STUDY: Daily marijuana use increases risk of psychotic disorder

The Thaiger

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STUDY: Daily marijuana use increases risk of psychotic disorder | The Thaiger

The legalisation of medical-use marijuana continues to sweep across the globe, recently in Thailand where the roll-out and enactment of practical uses of the new legislation are underway.

But this spread of a new legal credibility of the drug continues whilst possible health risks (or benefits) are not fully understood. Properly medically supervised or scientifically conducted studies continue to come out weekly with varied results about the benefits or dangers of long-term cannabis use.

According to new research published in ‘Lancet Psychiatry‘, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, people who use cannabis daily, as well as those who use high-potency weed, may be three times more likely to develop psychotic disorder than never-users.

The new evidence is consistent with previous experiments that suggest heavy use and high THC concentration cannabis – a 10% concentration of THC (the psychoactive substance within cannabis) or higher – can be harmful to mental health.

Dr. Marta Di Forti, lead author and a clinician scientist at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London said the ‘Psychotic disorder’ was precisely what was studied.

“We are talking about people who meet diagnostic criteria and come to the attention of mental health services to receive treatment for psychosis. So they have to have symptoms of psychosis across the spectrum – hallucination, delusions – that have lasted at least for a week.”

Currently, medical cannabis is legal in most European countries, though recreational use is only legal in Netherlands, Czech Republic and Spain (in certain situations). Meanwhile many other countries continue to discuss legalisation.

Di Forti and her co-authors pf the paper looked at data from five countries in Europe… UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France. Brazil was also included in the sample where cannabis is illegal.

They found 901 patients with a first-time episode of psychosis over a five-year period and compared them to 1,237 matched non-patients.

Daily use of cannabis was more common among patients with psychosis compared to the controls, they found. About 30% of patients reported using cannabis daily compared to just 7% of non-patient controls. And use of high potency cannabis was also more common among patients than controls – 37% compared to 19%.

The study results do not provide enough information for her to say “use only this amount, only this often” to remain safe.

At this stage, the paper estimates one in five new cases of psychosis may be linked to daily cannabis use, and one in 10 cases linked to use of high potency cannabis.

You can read the full report in Lancet Psychiatry.

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Air Pollution

Chiang Mai ‘s tourism holds up despite smoke and smog

The Thaiger

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Chiang Mai ‘s tourism holds up despite smoke and smog | The Thaiger

Chiang Mai’s current poor air quality and smoke haze is raising concerns on the potential impact on tourism as Thailand’s Songkran water festival approaches.

Smog has been a yearly occurrence in Northern Thailand, but this year the situation appears to be the worst with Chiang Mai topping the air pollution ranking and the media tracking daily results.

But La-iad Bungsrithong, president of the Thai Hotels Association (Northern Chapter), says there appears to be a short-term decline in the market.

However, she attributes the current performance to March being part of the traditional low season rather than the pollution, adding that there has been no booking cancellation from leisure or MICE guests.

The Songkran festival typically sees leisure demand for Chiang Mai from South-east Asia, Europe, China and Thailand. According to La-iad, room occupancy in April last year was 65 per cent, reaching 85 per cent during the Songkran period (April 12-14).

She expects similar figures for Songkran this year but also greater competition arising from new hotels around Chiang Mai and Airbnb.

Similarly, a spokesperson of Standard tour, Somchai Sandnee, said the company’s business has not been affected by the air pollution. Chinese tourists are less perturbed by smog issues than political turmoil and recent events such as the boat accident in Phuket last year, Somchai pointed out.

Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel & Tours, also says he doesn’t see the smog having an impact on sales.

“The smog is considered an annual situation and our company always (issues) an advice to customers. In the case where customers really want to visit Chiang Mai, we will suggest they limit their stays in the city in favour of other provinces instead such as Sukhothai,” Chotechuang explained.

SOURCE: ttgasia.com

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Bangkok

Top Five things to consider if you’re buying a condo in Thailand

The Thaiger

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Top Five things to consider if you’re buying a condo in Thailand | The Thaiger

Not quite a Top Ten but some good straight-talking about buying condominiums in Thailand from Desmond Hughes from Hughes Krupica

One of the most commonly read or spoken summary of foreign ownership of property in Thailand is along the lines of

“Foreigners can buy a foreign freehold condominium in their name”.

At this sentence, many foreign investors switch off, and assume that the rest of the detail provided by the author may be legal mumbo jumbo or a thinly veiled attempt to win their business.

In fact, there is quite a lot you should know about Thai condominiums, before you start property hunting. As my clients don’t generally spend their time reading legal journals and legislation unless they have to, I have set out a mixture of legal and practical matters below without much distinction:

1. Only 49% of the Registrable Area of a condominium can be sold to foreigners.

In Bangkok, this is not likely to have any impact on you. Most of the buyers and owners of condominiums in Bangkok are Thai nationals. Even in condominiums popular with foreigners, it is an uncommon phenomena that foreigners would ever outnumber Thais as owners in a building. You might ask why the rule even exists, but there is a fear and protectionism in many Asian countries, not just Thailand, to try and keep foreigners ‘controlled’ through numbers and perecentages.

In other places – Phuket; Pattaya; Koh Samui; Chiang Mai and Hua Hin particularly you should apply caution to ensuring that the correct ‘quota’ of foreign units is available to be sold to you on a freehold basis.

2. Banks often advertise they will give finance, even potentially to foreigners, but in the end – don’t

I speak from personal experience and from that of my clients. For my first condo investment in Bangkok, I had to take out a loan with HSBC which was then taken over by a Thai bank. My loan had to be in foreign currency, because in order to buy a foreign freehold condominium – you have to send foreign currency into Thailand from overseas to generate ‘foreign exchange transaction forms’ to register the title to a foreigner at the land office. This means a lot of hoops for a bank to jump through simply to provide a mortgage. Foreigners are also viewed as flight risks by Thai banks and they do not wish to spend their time chasing foreign assets. This all means that a very high percentage of the foreign buyer market is cash based, which is good for the stability of that part of the condo market.

If you are tempted to try and take out finance applications to banks, be aware that the banks are looking for you to have some business in Thailand; perhaps to be married to a Thai national who preferable from the bank’s perspective will have some degree of wealth for self-support; and that you have other assets in Thailand with a history of using and paying off credit such as credit cards.

3. There is an oversupply of condominiums in Bangkok at the moment and rental yields are traditionally low in terms of % compared to more expensive Asian neighbors – Hong Kong and Singapore, and further afield

A condo in a prime rentable area at a high investment price can remain rentable due to its extremely useful location and amenities. If such condo has a 24 hour supermarket in the basement of the retail area and dozens of restaurants, as a condo building I am thinking of does have such amenities, then it will remain rentable for some time if the property is maintained. However, another condo at the end of the same ‘Soi’ and post building and delivery could remain unrented after many months and even if the rent is cut to 50% of the market price. Don’t just take my word for the state of the market for condo rentals in Bangkok, ask the agents.

In addition to this, the authorities are taking a closer eye at tax declarations and ‘cracking down’ on undeclared taxes – not just personal income tax, but the ‘business tax’ of 12.5% for renting units out. This all adds to the costs of investing and renting in a condo, and you must calculate this into your budget and forecasts to avoid living in fantasy land about dream returns.

3. You won’t have any say in how the condominium is managed

Unless you buy up over half of the voting rights attached to units in the entire building, you will be a minority voice on issues like the raising of the common area fees; use of the ‘sinking fund’ – the fund to make capital repairs, changes to the rules and regulations and general maintenance decisions, even of some significance. Don’t imagine standing up at an co-owners meeting voicing your opinions and somehow making headway in ‘changing’ the direction of the management of a building. The way in which a building is managed boils down to how the developer has structured ownership, whether the developer retains many units and a large % of the voting rights or not, and whether the developer plans to self-manage or outsource management of the asset to a reputable or not-so-reputable management company.

If you don’t check the management plan then I can reference lots of analogous situations where you would take more care – if you buy a car, you should think if there are any decent repair centres nearby and at a reasonable price – Ferraris in Phuket aren’t currently easy to maintain, I would imagine, as a non-Ferrari owner and observer of the state and condition of the roads in that Province. You also wouldn’t, I hope, buy a smart phone without knowing you could have the phone service, fixed and various parts replaced on reasonably short notice. As a property is a far higher value of investment, a lot of investigation into the management plan is necessary.

4. Don’t Believe the Hype – It’s a Sequel

False Media, we don’t need it do we? If you see a glossy marketing brochure and are told that the developer ‘has to deliver on its promises by law’ – be wary. To take one example, I bought a condo under which a ‘private wine cellar area with personal secure wine bottle storage space’ would be provided to every buyer. Amazingly, without any shame at all, the famous developer constructed an unchilled cheap wooden cabinet with glass doors, no locks next to 4 sofa chairs in the open space corridor between a swimming pool and the gym. If you wanted to fry an egg on the ‘wine cabinet’ then that was highly likely to have been possible.

These kind of things are not all ‘horror stories’ – I actually got a decent condo notwithstanding the missing items. However, you will often have to compromise when in more highly regulated and supervised jurisdictions, you would not. Compromise is a very common work in Thai society and it applies to business and consumer purchases too.

5. Set up your ownership for easy re-sale

If you are buying a condo as a ‘foreigner’ and paying cash, then you can buy your condo through a foreign company, and sell the company later. This is only worth doing if the cost of setting up and maintaining the foreign company is reasonable and the company you set up is ‘saleable’ and attractive to others. You should not carry out this kind of structuring to ‘avoid tax’. However, you can set up this kind of structure, pay tax on the purchase, and subsequently deal with your company as you see fit, provided a buyer is willing to buy it. If such a company receives rental income, then even if it is foreign it is till liable to taxes as the use of the ‘immoveable property’ for generating revenue isn’t deemed to be ‘outside’ of Thailand, and that applies even if the company tries to contract for and receive the rent outside of Thailand.

Desmond Hughes has operated and owned 2 law firms in Asia in 14 years spanning Thailand; Vietnam; Indonesia with clients in all of Asia and other markets investing inwards into the region with his existing firm Hughes Krupica possessing a large market shares in its fields of expertise. 

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