Bangkokians tended to drug crops for decades as cops just stood by. Backyard narcotic plants are being grown in urban communities under the very noses of residents and, in some cases, the law.
Hardly a day goes by without news reports of police seizing large hauls of methamphetamine.
Drug raids also regularly turn up impressive quantities of ice, or crystal methamphetamine.
But while authorities focus their efforts on cracking down on these lab-produced drugs, a resurgence in demand for a traditional, home-brewed narcotic goes largely reported.
In the back alleys of some small communities, kratom (mitragyna speciosa) leaves are being formulated into a drink that gives users a drug-induced high.
Kratom is illegal, a Type 5 drug in the same league as marijuana.
Popular among recreational drug users in the far South, the source of the leaves _ the kratom trees _ are also fuelling the narcotics trade in Bangkok.
The leaves are sought-after by teenagers mostly in the peripheral districts of Nong Chok, Min Buri and Lat Krabang. These districts have large Muslim populations, just like the deep South.
The leaves form the key ingredient in a narcotic brew known as "4x100".
The popularity of the brew has pushed up demand for fresh krathom leaves.
A 20-year-old college student, Maropi Lungmae, a native of Narathiwat, last year tried to steal a few leaves from a 30-tree kratom orchard grown in the yard of a house belonging to 73-year-old Thongdee Jaemsee in Bangkok's Lat Phrao district. As he attempted to sneak on to the property, he was unaware the homeowner had built an electrical fence to keep out intruders. He was electrocuted while climbing the fence.
Maropi was killed and Ms Thongdee was sentenced to two years and four months for manslaughter.
Bangkok police are now turning their sights to eradicating kratom, following the launch of the community service project advocated by the Central Investigation Police Bureau.
Police officers visit communities to get a first-hand look at residents' problems, and suggest solutions.
The predominantly Muslim Somwang community in Kannayao district of Bangkok was chosen to pilot the project.
Pol Col Piya Charoensuk, a superintendent of the Crime Suppression Division, said the police discovered almost a dozen kratom trees in the community.
Officers told residents about the adverse health consequences of using the drug and the possible legal repercussions of growing the trees to harvest drug crops.
The residents agreed to fell the trees, which were aged between 30 and 40 years old.
After the trees in the Somwang community were chopped down, drug peddlers started searching for a new supply of krathom leaves.
They were drawn to the Karai Pattana community, not far from the Somwang community.
Karai Pattana community was found to have an even denser concentration of kratom trees.
Police discovered more than 50 kratom trees growing amid other trees in the yards of most homes in the community.
Sixty leaves can fetch 100 baht, and the peddlers are mostly children.
Officers have persuaded residents to get rid of the trees, with mixed success.
"There are 59 households, and the idea of felling the trees was met with some resistance," Pol Col Piya said.
Some older residents believed krathom leaves cure diabetes.
Other residents, however, were only too pleased to cut down the trees, as they were worried their children would become addicted.
It took a month to convince the entire community to remove all the kratom trees from their backyards.
A regular drinker of "4x100", who declined to be named, said the cocktail is made by boiling the leaves and mixing kratom-infused water with a fizzy beverage and cough syrup.
"You start to drift after a sip or two. It feels like smoking weed but it's not as heavy as alcohol and leaves you with more self-control," he said.
He added that he is easily irritated and suffers muscle pain when he has not had a drink for a while.
Pol Col Piya said it was odd that many kratom trees, some several decades old, are still being found in Bangkok under the noses of law enforcement officers.
Local police have been aware of the trees for years but have stopped short of ordering them removed to avoid any resistance from residents, he said.
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