Narcotics (Amendment) Bill passed with more clarity

With 40 votes in favor for the bill to pass, National Assembly (NA) passed Narcotics (Amendment) Bill, 2017. NA re-deliberated on Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse (Amendment) Bill, 2017 on 4th December, 2017 and adopted the Bill on 5th December, 2017.

They adopted the bill adding four new sections and various amendments which not only provides more flexibility in including new drugs but also avoids harsh sentences for even small amounts of drugs.

One section states that, such other drugs or substances of similar nature, effect, group or properties as those listed under Schedules I to VI of this Act shall be subjected to the same measure of control as the controlled drug or substance listed under this Act. This would be important incase certain drugs are not in the list.

Similarly, another new section of the bill states that, the BNCA board shall submit to the parliament for information as and when the schedules are revised or updated. In addition, they also have added that, a person charged under Section 152 of this Act shall remain under custody of the authorized officer or law enforcement agency until he or she is produced before the treatment assessment panel till the completion of the treatment as provided in the rules and regulations.

Another new section states that, notwithstanding the provision of this Act, a person possessing equal to or less than two times the quantity determined in Schedule VII of this Act shall be liable for offence of substance abuse under Section 152 of this Act in lieu of the offence of illicit trafficking, provided that, (i) the substance in possession is Cannabis and its derivatives or a substance under Schedule III or IV of this Act, (ii) tested positive for the substance in possession, (iii) no past criminal record related to illicit trafficking of controlled drugs or substances and (iv) absences of proof against illicit trafficking.

Meanwhile, apart from adding few new sections to the bill, the house has amended few of the sections from the existing Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse (NDPSSA) Act of Bhutan 2015.

Section 59 states that, the Parliament Board may amend the Schedules including addition, deletion of substances in the Schedule or the whole Schedule and/or quantification of any of the substances deemed to be abused or trafficked, upon the recommendation of the competent technical advisory committees formed under it.

In continuation, Section 133 of the bill states that, a defendant shall be guilty of an offence of illicit trafficking of cannabis and its derivatives, regardless of the degree of purity, if he or she possesses, imports, exports, stores, sells, purchase, transport, distributes, or supplies cannabis or its derivatives if it is more than the quantity determined in Schedule VII of this Act.

With regard to the offence of substance abuse by minor, section 154 of this bill states that, notwithstanding section 153 of this Act, a minor committing an offence of substance abuse for the first time shall be liable to be referred to institutional based counseling. An out of school or non-school going minor shall be referred to an approved treatment centre for minor or drop-in-centre for a period of not less than two weeks.

During the second time one shall be liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than one month in an approved treatment centre for minor as assessed by the Treatment Assessment Panel.

For the third time one shall be liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than three months or compulsory service or both as specified under rules and regulations;

The fourth time will lead to the minor to undergo compulsory treatment for one year or less at a juvenile correctional centre or community service or both as specified under rules and regulations and early release on good conduct and early recovery as recommended by the Treatment Assessment Panel.

Inline to unauthorized advertisement of controlled drugs and substances to the public, section 157 of the bill states that, the offence of unauthorized advertisement of controlled drugs and substances listed under this Act shall be a misdemeanor.

Similarly, apart from those sections, the house has amended Section 54, Section 83, Section 85, Section 86, Section 136 and Section 141 of the NDPSSA Act of Bhutan 2015.

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