Ministry wants re-enactment of law imprisoning drug users

By Hoang Thuy, Anh Minh   June 4, 2019 | 02:08 pm GMT+7
Ministry wants re-enactment of law imprisoning drug users
Special police forces intervene a protest by drug users at a detention center in Dong Nai Province in southern Vietnam in 2016. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan.
A 1999 law that would imprison anyone who illegally uses drugs is on the anvil as an anti-drug trafficking move.

The re-enactment of this provision is part of changes that the Ministry of Public Security is proposing to the nation’s anti-drug laws.

"If drug criminals want to increase drug sales, the number of addicts must increase. Therefore, the police need to reduce the number of addicts and criminalize drug use," Minister of Public Security To Lam said at a National Assembly session on Tuesday.

Authorities must try to prevent drug crimes in the first place, he said.

The 1999 Penal Code said anyone who illegally uses drugs after having been sent to compulsory rehab centers can be jailed from three months to two years. A repeat offender faces jail time of two to five years.

Following international criticism however, the government established a timeframe in 2013 to gradually replace compulsory detention centers with community-based, voluntary treatment regimen.

The Law on Handling Administrative Violations, which took effect on January 1, 2014, transferred the power to send drug users to compulsory rehabilitation programs from the local police departments to district-level courts.

As previously reported, however, the transition has proven tricky. Inconsistencies in how the legal system treats drug users and the widely-held belief that drug addiction stems from moral failure persist. The country also lacks competent doctors, therapists and equipment to carry out its ambitious new laws on treatment.

Available and cheap

Lam said the demand for narcotics in Vietnam is still high and enforcement agencies have not been able to completely stop drug trafficking into the country, as evidenced by drug prices remaining low.

He said that effective prevention of drug trafficking into the country would see prices go up, inevitably. "Despite our police forces seizing several tons of drugs, their prices haven’t dropped, which means trafficking into Vietnam is still a complex situation." 

He noted that the 500km distance from Vietnam to the Golden Triangle, Vietnam’s long border and the country’s open stance on economic reforms were factors that complicated the situation.

Lam said drug crimes could lead to other crimes like murder and robbery. It is "the crime of all crimes." 

He said every pack (330 grams) of heroin being trafficked into Vietnam can send at least 10 people to prison.

About half of all prisoners in the country are in jail for their connection to drug crimes, said Lam. Combating drug trafficking is thus vital to reducing the number of prisoners, he said.

The ministry will propose changes and additions to Vietnam’s Anti-Drug Law, educate people about drug crimes and foster international cooperation to better combat drug trafficking in Vietnam, he added.

"We can completely stop drug crimes and not become a trafficking hub."

Several major drug cases have been busted in Vietnam in recent months, yielding tons of drugs in the process.

In March, a raid by hundreds of police officers and border guards netted a pickup truck with around 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of meth in HCMC. It was the largest drug haul ever in the city, and the drugs were on the way to Taiwan. Police have detained seven suspects, including a Chinese gang leader.

The same month, HCMC police arrested two Taiwanese men transporting more than 300 kilos (661 pounds) of heroin in a truck in Hoc Mon District.

The two cases have prompted a senior HCMC police officer to warn that the city was growing into a transit point for drugs, owing to its well-connected road, marine and air transport services.

Vietnamese authorities deal with around 20,000 cases involving drugs every year and arrest 30,000 people. The country has some 250,000 registered addicts, but actual figures could be much higher.

The drug situation has not changed much for the better despite Vietnam having some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face death.

 
 
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