Thanet Toonpakdee's morning routine appears picturesque: he rises early to ready his fishing nets along the Mekong River, at the spot where the waterway meets four countries: Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China.
Yet he has little time to enjoy the view - and he often fears for his life along the Mekong.
That's because this area is known as the "Golden Triangle", one of the world's busiest drug trafficking regions.
Toonpakdee spoke to Al Jazeera about his experiences, explaining how he tries incredibly hard to not get into any sort of confrontation with the smugglers.
"They use small fishing piers like this one to offload drugs. I never talk to them because I fear for my life."
The problem has worsened in the last decade.
A United Nations report in December revealed that opium production in the Golden Triangle had tripled since 2006, with the illegal drugs trade in the region worth $16.3 billion. The area produced 762 tonnes of opium in 2014, making about 76 tonnes of heroin, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey stated.
While Afghanistan is now the biggest cultivator of opium poppies in the world, the Golden Triangle used to be largest, until eradication efforts in the late 1990s brought cultivation plummeting. However, production has been on the rise once more due to a better transport infrastructure as well as an increasing number of heroin users in the surrounding countries.
Three months ago, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China launched a programme to curbing the illegal trafficking, with each nation realising that the problem could not be handled by each country alone. Thailand now hosts the Safe Mekong Co-ordination Centre (SMCC) in Chiang Mai town, which helps coordinate investigations between the four nations.
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Having been reclassified in 2009 from a Class C to a Class B drug, cannabis is now the most used illegal drug within the United Kingdom. The UK is also, however, the only country where Sativex – a prescribed drug that helps to combat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis and contains some ingredients that are also found in cannabis - is licensed as a treatment
2/12 North Korea
Although many people believe the consumption of cannabis in North Korea to be legal, the official law regarding the drug has never been made entirely clear whilst under Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, it is said that the North Korean leader himself has openly said that he does not consider cannabis to be a drug and his regime doesn’t take any issue with the consumption or sale of the drug
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In the Netherlands smoking cannabis is legal, given that it is smoked within the designated ‘smoking areas’ and you don’t possess more than 5 grams for personal use. It is also legal to sell the substance, but only in specified coffee shops
Although in some states of America cannabis has now been legalised, prior to the legalisation, police in the U.S. could make a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds, according to US News and World Report. The country also used to spend around $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana law, the American Civil Liberties Union notes
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Despite cannabis being officially illegal in Spain, the European hotspot has recently started to be branded, ‘the new Amsterdam’. This is because across Spain there are over 700 ‘Cannabis Clubs’ – these are considered legal venues to consume cannabis in because the consumption of the drug is in private, and not in public. These figures have risen dramatically in the last three years – in 2010 there were just 40 Cannabis Clubs in the whole of Spain. Recent figures also show that in Catalonia alone there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs – this amounts to over 5 million euros (£4 million) in revenue each month
In December 2013, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill legalizing and regulating the production and sale of the drug. But the president has since postponed the legalization of cannabis until to 2015 and when it is made legal, it will be the authorities who will grow the cannabis that can be sold legally. Buyers must be 18 or older, residents of Uruguay, and must register with the authorities
Despite the fact that laws prohibiting the sale and misuse of cannabis exist and is considered a habit only entertained by lower-income groups, it is very rarely enforced. The occasional use of cannabis in community gatherings is broadly tolerated as a centuries old custom. The open use of cannabis by Sufis and Hindus as a means to induce euphoria has never been challenged by the state. Further, large tracts of cannabis grow unchecked in the wild
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs, and started treating drug users as sick people, instead of criminals. However, you can still be arrested or assigned mandatory rehab if you are caught several times in possession of drugs
9/12 Puerto Rico
Although the use of cannabis is currently illegal, it is said that Puerto Rico are in the process of decriminalising it
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The US state became the first in the country to legalise marijuana in January 2014. In February 2015, President Obama recently said he expects to see more states "looking into" legalisation. However, it is illegally to grow more than six cannabis plants and to possess more than 28 grams of the drug
Oaksterdam in Oakland, California, is the world's only university dedicated to the study and cultivation of cannabis. If you are court in California with anything up to an ounce of cannabis, you will be fine $100, but you will not get a criminal record, nor will you have to appear in court
Cannabis is grown in the wild and has been used to treat conditions such as gout and malaria. But, officially the substance is illegal to consume, possess and sell
Has the new effort at coordination worked? According to the SMCC, appearently so.
Since operations began in January, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China have reported nearly 600 arrests along with solving 590 drug-related cases. Over 5,000 law enforcement officers have participated in around 840 operations.
The SMCC said they had seized 71kg of heroin, 38kg of methamphetamine, 1.2kg of opium and 4.12m amphetamine tablets.Reuse content