Endorsed bill comes down hard on illegal possession of drugs

Parliament: Illegal possession of narcotics and psychotropic substances could result in conviction of a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony depending on the quantity that one is caught with.

This is according to the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse bill (NDPSSA) 2014 that the joint sitting of the Parliament endorsed yesterday.

The bill states that a person shall be guilty of an offence of illegal possession of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances categorised under various schedules if the person fails to produce a prescription from a registered physician for licit use.

Any person found carrying more than 10 tablets or capsules or five doses of injection of narcotic drugs with medicinal value would be charged for illegal trafficking. Similarly, if a person found carrying more than 15 tablets or capsules or eight doses of injections would be penalised in line with the bill.

Also, illegal transportation of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances could result in a fine of Nu 45,000 or an offence of a fourth degree felony, besides punching and cancellation of driving licenses.

If it’s a first time offence, a fine equivalent to a minimum wage for a year would be slapped, the driving licenses punched and goods seized.

The second offence should result in a fine equivalent to a minimum wage for two years, driving licenses punched, while the third offence shall be a felony of the fourth degree and final punching of driving license and seizure of goods.

Following disagreements on 15 clauses that were mainly to do with structure and language, a joint committee, comprising members from both the Houses, was formed.  The recommendations by the 12-member joint committee were presented at a joint sitting yesterday.  The bill was endorsed with 66 ‘yes’ votes, while three abstained.

The committee’s chairman and Bardo Trong representative Lekey Dorji said the Act was important in the interest of the country, people, and youth. “While coming up with the recommendations, we even consulted with the implementing bodies,” he said.

Besides proper description and categorisation of drug-related offences, regulatory agencies and procedural requirements for control and management of controlled drugs and substances, the bill also highlights the need and validity of drug test requirements and listing of current common drugs of abuse.

The need for a comprehensive Act was highlighted during the past session as NDPSSA Act 2005 was seen inconclusive and incomplete.  Another reason was the increasing drug-related deaths and offences.

Records with the Royal Bhutan Police showed a 30 percent increase in cases involving possession of controlled substances and a 10 percent increase of its illegal transaction in 2014.  There were 337 cases of possession of controlled substances, and 33 of its illegal transaction last year, compared to 259 and 30 respectively in 2013.

As per the NDPSSA bill 2014, the control, monitoring, and inspection for narcotic and psychotropic substances would also extend to containers of first aid kits in both domestic and international travel or conveyance.  A court can order to confiscate any property derived directly or indirectly through the commission of a criminal offence against the NDPSSA or penal code.  In doing so, the court can also order to confiscate the property.

The bill also mandates manufacturers, importers, exporters, wholesalers, and retailers to maintain proper records of drugs and substances brought for medical and scientific purposes. “Failing to maintain records of quantity, date, suppliers and recipients and manufactured and quantities held in stock shall be liable to cancellation of license, seizure of goods or a fine equivalent to a minimum wage for five years,” states the bill.

Panbang representative Dorji Wangdi, however, informed of the difference in minimum wage and national minimum daily wage.

Although the disputed bill specifically mentions national minimum daily wage initially, the joint committee changed it to minimum wage.

“This should be specific in the Act as the national minimum daily wage is fixed while minimum wage differs from one occupation to another depending on the place,” he said.

If it was not specific, Dorji Wangdi said this could lead to confusion among judges.

Speaker Jigmi Zangpo thanked the Pangbang representative for the clarification but said that, since none of the members objected to it, the bill was endorsed. Bhutan  Narcotics Control Authority will implement the Act once its given the royal assent.

 

By Kinga Dema

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