Booze ban to create pockets of prohibition

ABOVE: Under the new alcohol ban soon to go into effect, alcohol could not be sold anywhere but registered hotels in the areas marked in red on this map of a portion of Bangkok’s central business district.

It’s the last Friday of the month, your paycheck has dropped and leaving the office it’s time to wash the week away.

You start at Siam Paragon or CentralWorld’s Groove for dinner and wine with your tii rak, but they’re not serving. You head to a sports bar on Sukhumvit Road for some brew with your crew, but it’s gone dark. Desperate you race to Soi Cowboy to find the vodka locked up.

Impossible as it is to imagine this scenario being real, that’s the reality of a new ban on alcohol sales signed into law Monday and expected to go into effect next month.

As written and enacted under the military government’s special “Section 44” powers, the ban is for all alcohol sales – shopping malls, pubs, restaurants and everything – within 300 meters of schools. The only exemptions are for registered hotels and government-designated entertainment zones such as Patpong, Royal City Avenue-upper Thonglor, and that stretch of big box clubs on Ratchadapisek Road.

Secondary and post-secondary schools in a portion of Bangkok’s central business district.

The stated purpose of the ban is to counter student drinking and violence, but the groups pushing the ban are the usual umbrella organizations of anti-alcohol prohibitionists. This time they landed on a more compelling argument than “it’s bad” at a time when legislative hurdles can be brushed aside with the stroke of a pen.

The trade association representing alcohol sellers is, unsurprisingly, opposed to the measure and has made vocal arguments about the law’s ineffectiveness and outsized impact.

“Imagine foreigners go into expensive restaurants but cannot order wine,” Thanakorn Kuptajit, president of the Thai Alcoholic Beverage Business Association told Coconuts. “Places like Hard Rock cafe in Siam or even Soi Cowboy will be affected.”

As to the stated purpose of the ban, the association believes stricter enforcement of age limits makes more sense, because if you don’t want young people drinking, just don’t allow them to buy.

“The old law which prohibited underage drinkers is more right-to-the-point than this new law,” Thanakorn said.

But setting aside debate over its merits and intent, it would have a huge effect if it goes into effect as written.

“No person shall sell alcohol beverages within 300 meters from the boundary line of tertiary education institution and vocational institution pursuant to the laws on national education,” the order amending the Alcohol Beverage Control Act states.

There’s not much left to interpretation in the new law enacted under Section 44.

That would shut out the barflies hanging out on Soi Cowboy, which sits within 300 meters of part of the Srinakharinwirot University campus. It would also force many popular malls to go dry. Siam Paragon is just across the street from Chulalongkorn University. Even the newly opened EmQuartier is within 300 meters of the Ivy Bound International School.

And sorry, backpackers and weekend warriors, but your Khaosan Road would go dark because it sits between Wat Chana Songkhram and Satri Witthaya schools.

Will any of this actually happen? Again, difficult to imagine. But that’s what the law says.

Several bars and restaurants contacted said they had no idea about the ban. Thanakorn of the alcohol association said there isn’t much awareness of the law’s impact because businesses assumed it would exempt them, which it does not.

The new law was signed by Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday and is expected to be officially published on Tuesday, after which it would automatically go into effect 30 days later on Aug. 27.

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