Thailand Bans Alcohol Sales Near Schools – So What?

Drunk Thai on Jomtien beachLast week, the military government has issued two controversial new laws restricting the sales of alcohol within a radius of 300 metres of schools and universities across the country.
While it still remains to be seen how strictly the new rules will be enforced and how they will affect the entertainment industry (we think Pattaya won’t see much of an impact aside from perhaps a few “show raids”), Khaosod English has a useful summary of the two separate new regulations.

The first legal measure was an amendment passed by the Office of Prime Minister on 22 July 2015 to the 2008 Control of Alcoholic Beverage Act.
The amendment outlaws selling alcohol within 300 meters of the “fence” of universities and colleges, both public and private. Lower schools are not included in the ban.
The amendment, which will come into effect 30 days after its publication [in the Royal Gazette], also exempts hotels, “entertainment zones,” and wholesale factories and distributors from the restriction.

It must be added that the amendment has not been published in the Royal Gazette yet.
The second legal measure, an order issued by junta (NCPO) chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha last Thursday and effective immediately, however also appears to include elementary and high schools:

The NCPO order forbids selling alcohol in the “vicinity” of “educational institutions” and student dormitories. The scope of “vicinity” and “educational instutions” is not specified in the order, although the latter is defined in existing laws as including all levels of education, such as elementary schools and high schools.

So for the time being, it seems, alcohol sales are banned “near” all educational institutions, however not necessarily within a radius of 300 metres. In other words, the scope of the junta-issued order (as is often the case with Thai law) is open to interpretation. Meanwhile, the more specific 300-metre rule won’t come into effect until 30 days after the amendment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act has been published in the Royal Gazette – which hasn’t happened yet.
We won’t say much about these ill-conceived new rules that are presumably meant to protect the Thai youth from getting pissed after school and becoming alcoholics like their uncles and dads. They obviously completely miss the point. And they’re redundant in the first place. There are other laws in place already (but obviously not sufficiently enforced) to prevent the Thai youth from skipping school because of a really wicked hangover.
What concerns us more is – what tangible impact may they have?

While it still remains uncertain to what extent the new rules will be enforced (7-Eleven stores will apparently comply with the new rules but we don’t think there’ll be much of police action), let’s look at how Pattaya might be affected by the new booze ban. While in Bangkok, the new laws could also cover entertainment areas like Khaosan Road and Soi Cowboy, the potential impact on Pattaya we think would be much less severe and negligible.
Yes, there’s a government school on Naklua Road, so a couple of bars and restaurants on the northern outskirts of the city might be affected, i.e. if police really bothered checking up on them. And of course, there’s also the government school right in the centre of South Pattaya and just around the corner from Walking Street …

But keep calm, all you scaremongers, Walking Street is a designated entertainment zone (though we’re not sure how far this zone actually extends and whether side-streets are included or not), so no, there will be definitely NO booze ban on Walking Street.
As far as bars in other areas of South Pattaya within a 300-metre radius of the school would be affected – well, only time will tell. But we would think that the boys in brown have more urgent things to do and Pattaya officials aren’t eager either to bite the hand that feeds them.
To cut a long story short, we assume that the new booze ban will simply go down the same road as last summer’s proposed blacklisting for visa overstayers that made big headlines for a couple of months yet was never approved in the end. Much ado about nothing. A paper tiger.

By the way, the Interior Ministry has announced today they would “recheck and survey night entertainment zones, set up in 2002, to formulate new zonings in six months”. Let’s assume that existing zones will be expanded and/or new ones will be added, so areas that are potentially affected by the new booze ban will effectively be exempted.

UPDATE – An article in the Bangkok Post supports our suggestions re: the renewed importance of “zoning”:

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya on Monday tried to quell the controversy over a vaguely worded junta order banning alcohol sales “near” educational institutions, denying it prohibits booze sales within 300 metres of schools and that enforcement will depend upon the drawing of new entertainment zones.

The minister said it would take 180 days to draw up new entertainment zones that would clarify where alcohol could and could not be sold legally. Until then, there’s nothing that says existing operators cannot sell booze within 300 metres of any school (…)

He noted that, under current zoning, many bars were operating illegally. However, after drawing up new areas, those bars may end up being legal.

Let’s venture a guess: We predict that the 300-metre radius rule won’t be published in the Royal Gazette until new and expanded “entertainment zones” (that will be exempted from the law) have been specified. Bet against it?

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