Little noticeable impact to booze ban so far

Despite a unilateral ban on the sale of alcohol near school property on Thursday, Bangkok sailed through its first weekend with little obvious effect.

From popular shopping malls to seedier red light districts, venues within the newly minted bubbles of prohibition were carrying on as usual, apart from some selective enforcement.

Police raided two bars near Rangsit University in northern metropolitan Bangkok, but otherwise wine, spirits and beer were flowing as usual, despite statements it would be enforced.

“Warnings will be given to venue operators who breach the regulation and arrests will be made if they defy the law,” state media announced today.

The unanswered question is: Will it be enforced like Thailand’s ban on prostitution or its ban on political gatherings?

Simply enacting the ban may be enough, as police have already declared its success in the capital.

“Initially, entertainment venue operators in the capital and its vicinity have been acting in compliance with the authorities’ order,” national police spokesman Lt. Gen. Prawut Thawornsiri said today. “However, those in the provinces would also be reminded of the seriousness of the offense.”

While Bangkok grapples with whether to take the ban seriously, its effects aren’t limited to the capital.

It was Friday when word spread in out in the city of Prachuap Khiri Khan, about three hours southwest of Bangkok. Along the valiantly named Sala Chee Road running from a military airbase, alcohol control officials fanned out with printed maps showing areas within 300 meters of schools to notify establishments they would have to stop selling alcohol.

Other locations such as Chiang Mai’s trendy Nimmanahaeminda Road and Pattaya’s stained-and-famed Walking Street are near schools and would have to go dry, were the law enforced.

And for many small communities throughout Thailand, a 300-meter radius from schools would cover all of town.

The surprise ban came by fiat from Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who last week used his absolute power to unilaterally ban alcohol sales near any schools or school property, without exception.

The puzzling dimension is why that more vaguely worded law was rushed into immediate effect Thursday when days earlier he had signed another order which set a 300-meter limit and offered limited exemptions. That law should still take effect in late August.

There’s been little discussion of the ban’s impact and potential economic effect, and traditional media have buried the story. Maybe they’re hoping the executive order will just go away if they ignore it.

That said, the committed and thirsty will need to prepare adequately for Thursday and Friday. If recent religious holidays have proven, it should be considerably more difficult than usual to buy alcohol when Asahna Bucha Day is observed this week.

Photo: Geoff Carter

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