Nat’l Assembly Passes New Law on Drugs

Forcible detention allowed for drug users

In spite of a boycott by lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rain­sy Party, the National Assem­bly on Friday voted to adopt a new drug law, the drafts of which have been heavily criticized by NGOs due to provisions that allow the courts to forcibly detain drug ad­dicts inside treatment facilities.

In customary fashion, debate on all nine chapters of the law took less than two hours, and no changes were proposed to any of its 125 articles.

Seventy-eight of the 79 lawmakers present voted in favor of the law.

According to the new drug law, addicts can be forcibly detained inside treatment centers if they are considered to be capable of harming themselves or a danger to society. A previous draft measure allowing for addicts to be forcibly detained for up to two years had been taken out of the law before Friday’s debate.

Human rights groups have said forcible detention should not be allowed due to abuse and poor treat­ment recorded inside the count­ry’s rehabilitation centers.

“If the medical results claim the person remains in a serious drug using condition or there is evidence that proves that they are in danger of harming themselves, a prosecutor can make a decision to cure and force rehabilitation,” according to the law. Addicts who are forcibly detained, however, have the right to file a complaint and appeal the decision according to the new law.

The law also hands down strict punishments for both consumers and sellers of drugs.

For example, those found in the possession of between 15 and 80 grams of amphetamines, methamphetamines or ecstasy can be given prison sentences of between five to 10 years. For amounts up to 240 grams, sentences of between 10 and 20 years are permitted by the law. For any more than that, guilty parties can go to jail for between 20 and 30 years.

Those carrying between four and 25 grams of drugs such as morphine or cocaine will also be sentenced to between five and 10 years in jail. Those caught carrying between 25 to 80 grams will receive a jail sentence of between 10 and 20 years. Anyone caught with more than 80 grams can go to jail for between 20 to 30 years.

Drug users can be sentenced to between one and six months in jail depending on the type of drug.

During yesterday’s session, Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Committee for Combating Drugs, said the law was aimed at clamping down harder on drug crime as well as offering more support to the drug addicts.

“Even though there was an amendment to the drug law [in 2005], it was not capable enough to crack down on drug crime, so the government is in serious need of a new law,” he told lawmakers during the debate.

Mr Kim Yan said that in 2011 the government has so far arrested 1,570 people in drug-related cases and that there are currently around 1,000 addicts in drug rehabilitation centers across the country.

With forced rehabilitation now possible under the new law, that number could soon rise. The UN, however, has showed the government that voluntary rehabilitation can be just as effective.

According to a report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last year, Cambodian health officials showed “palpable resistance” to a $1.1 million program that was designed to highlight how allowing drug addicts to voluntarily enter treatment centers is also a useful tool.

The government currently sends addicts to several centers across the country, each of which has been blasted by NGOs for their lack of proper care and abusive practices.

During the Assembly debate, CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel asked the members of parliament in attendance to debate each of the law’s nine chapters, but each time he received a blanket of approving silence.

“If there is no debate then we will go ahead and ratify,” Mr Nhel said.

Friday marked the second day that the opposition Sam Rainsy Party has refused to send its lawmakers to the parliamentary session.

On Thursday, the party boycotted the Assembly’s vote to approve the 2012 national budget of $2.6 billion due to the limited amount of information on the $1.1 billion in loans that will make up the government’s proposed spending for next year.

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