The proposal of  the National Assembly’s Legislative Committee to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act, 2015 (NDPSSAA) as an urgent bill in the forthcoming winter session is welcome.

It’s important to have clear and objective law to deal with emerging threats to the Bhutanese society from issues related to abuse of substances. The World Drug Report 2017 estimates 29.5 million people are drug-dependent worldwide. Here at home, over the years we are also experiencing growing reports of abusers and dealers. It is critical to have a clear strategy, policy and law to deal with an issue that is as deadly and lethal as drugs.

Recently, the judiciary passed a judgment on SP Plus in the national interest where we saw the legislature pointing out the limitation of judiciary’s powers and therefore, the need to correct the procedures implicating amendment of the narcotic Act. These developments must be taken in a positive spirit as various institutions are adjusting their powers and authorities enshrined in the Constitution. However, what is urgent now is to apprehend the issues related to substance abuse before it gets beyond control.

It’s about time that we collectively get serious to resolve the issues pertaining to drugs and substance abuse. As a small country with a growing youth population, there are enormous risks of ambiguous laws compounded by their weak application or non-application by the relevant agencies.

If the rule of law is fundamental to the success of democracy, their uniform application without exceptions would form the foundation for people’s confidence and trust in the law, which in turn strengthen the rule of law in the country. Also, there should be one encompassing narcotic law and regulations to be followed by all. Therefore, the amendment of the Act is an opportunity to harmonise the existing provisions of other laws and regulations. It’s more damaging to see varying penalties for the same degree of offences.

There is a need to assess the degree of penalties imposed for various offences. For example, people talk about unfairness of a situation where someone caught with few packets of tobacco is given three years imprisonment as compared to lesser penalties given to those caught with destructive drugs or having tested positive in the line of duty. A more stringent penalty need to be provisioned for those who are involved in trafficking illicit drugs.

The fight against drugs is a responsibility of each and every Bhutanese. There are NGOs and government agencies spearheading the issue but we cannot leave the work to them alone. If we care for our country’s future and stability, every incident must be reported to the relevant authority or the media to further investigate and take action accordingly.

We must do whatever we can to keep Drukyul safe from drugs for all times to come.