Judgements on SP+ drug cases in abeyance

No judgements have been passed on cases involving possession of Spasmo Proxyvon Plus (SP+) since last month.

SP+ is a generic form of the Spasmo Proxyvon (SP), a prescription drug used to relieve pain.

This, according to sources, is because some defendants have argued that SP+ is not categorised as a controlled substance in the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan (NDPSSA) 2015.

A Thimphu dzongkhag court official said that because SP+ is not included in the NDPSSA 2015, there are chances people may be acquitted like the ketamine cases in 2013, if there are no clear directives.

Ketamine was listed as a controlled drug in Bhutan only after a woman was caught smuggling the drug at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand in 2013.

Police, as a law enforcement agency and the Office of Attorney General (OAG) as the prosecuting agency have justified that although SP+ is specifically not categorised as a controlled drug, it should be considered a controlled substance since it has elements of SP.

“If our intention is to make Bhutan drug free and control and prevent drug abuse, SP+ should be treated like any other drugs,” OAG’s prosecutor, Phuntsho Namgay said.

OAG officials have been prosecuting those in illegal possession of SP+ since 2015. They say that they can do so based on section 139 of the NDPSSA 2015, which states a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances if he or she possesses, imports, exports, stores, sells, purchases, transports, distributes or supplies any substances under schedule one to four of the Act regardless of the degree of purity.

OAG and police officials explained that the main content of the SP drug is dextropropoxyphene, whereas the main content of SP+ is tramadol. However, all other elements in both SP and SP+ are the same, and the two drugs have the same effect on the user.

The deputy chief of police for crime, Colonel Dorji Wangchuk, said SP+ is not different from SP since it is abused as a psychotropic substance and the police consider it just another controlled substance for the safety of the public.

Both police and the OAG do not maintain separate records for SP+ cases. The OAG  prosecuted more than 390 cases involving controlled drugs in 2016.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in the recent Meet the Press session said there are about 11,000 drugs abusers in the country.

Meanwhile, it has been learnt that a case involving a man from Mongar, who was arrested with more than 1,125 capsules of SP+ in mid 2016, is in the Supreme Court.

The accussed, who was charged for a third degree felony, had two convictions against him and Mongar dzongkhag court enhanced the charge to second degree felony and convicted him to nine years and six months in prison.

The accused, who is in Chamgang prison, appealed to the High Court on the grounds that SP+ is not in the scheduled list of controlled substances and thereby requested the court to acquit him.

The High Court upheld the Mongar dzongkhag court’s verdict.

The accused appealed to the Supreme Court and court officials said they are waiting for Supreme Court’s judgment on the case, which will be used as a precedent.

A judge of the Thimphu dzongkhag court said they are waiting for the Supreme Court to issue directives on how to rule on cases involving SP+.

Tashi Dema

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