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Thailand’s New Alcohol Ban Surprises, Confuses, and Amuses

Without any warning, on July 20 Thailand introduced a new law that bans the sale of alcohol near educational institutions.

Signed into law by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the law has three basic clauses:

  • No alcohol will be sold within 300 m (1,000 ft) from the boundary of any vocational school or university
  • Hotels, authorized entertainment zones, and sites such as breweries will be exempt
  • The law will come into effect 30 days after being published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette

Make note of that last clause for below.

Just days after the notice, there was an additional notice. However, this one chose to employ decidedly vague language.

Bangkok Post reports, “The National Council for Peace and Order last week published an order under Section 44 of the interim constitution stating only that alcohol could not be sold ‘near’ schools, colleges, and universities, but did not set a radius for the dry zones. The seemingly overlapping orders left both the public and the police confused over what areas were legal.”

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Given the population densities of Thailand’s cities, there are schools everywhere. The poor wording of the follow-up decree leaves the legal definition of what constitutes a “school” open to (police) interpretation, and can include from preschool up to university.

Although bars are the most obvious victim, the law also affects convenience stores, shopping malls, and restaurants, as most everything is arguably within 300 meters of some type of school.

So as it currently stands, the law makes large areas of Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya, in essence, dry zones. Let that sink in for just a moment. Not ridiculous enough? Read on…

Many bars and restaurants are completely unaware of either version of this law, and so it remains business as usual for them, oblivious to the sword of Damocles hanging over their business. While on the other hand, police seem only too aware of the law, acting as if it were already enforceable by raiding and shutting down pubs near Rangsit University just north of Bangkok.

With all this going on, booze connoisseurs out there who have been following this turn of events closely must have had some real moments of panic, imagining their favorite watering hole would suddenly be high and dry.

Rest assured, bar flies. The powers that be appear to have realized this misstep, and have issued another notice countering the one already released.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya says that the next 180 days will be spent amending and designating both existing and new entertainment zones where alcohol can be sold legally under the new law. In the meantime, Koomchaya explains that there is no law currently in place banning alcohol sales within 300 meters of any educational institute… well, so long as the initial June 20 law is not published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette, that is.

The impetus behind this ridiculousness is to clamp down on youth drinking, associated violence, and the damage it does to Thailand’s reputation. Blanket measures with the potential to cripple local businesses, as well as cause tourists to second-guess their upcoming trip, seem to be the government’s preferred approach to this issue.

Whatever does get decided over the coming months, to those who frequent the special entertainment zones, long a fixture in cities such as Bangkok, do not fear. Whether it be the government-approved prostitute bars of Patpong or over at RCA, the playground for middle-class Thai youth, the drank will continue to flow.

H/T: Bangkok Post