Friday, May 23, 2008

Vietnam may decriminalize drug use

I missed this development last week because I was at the IHRA conference in Barcelona, but it's worth flagging up. Yes, even in Vietnam they are capable of a level of debate we seem entirely incapable of holding here in an apparently 'developed world' parliament . There's an awful lot wrong with Vietnamese drug policy (not least hardcore coerced treatment regimes and the illegal use of the death penalty) but if even they can seriously consider following the global trend toward decrimnalising drug use, it really puts the last year's childish political posturing over cannabis in the UK into stark relief.

Vietnam may decriminalize drug use

Hanoi - Vietnam's National Assembly is considering decriminalizing drug use, downgrading the personal use of illegal narcotics from a criminal offense to an administrative violation, a Vietnamese legislator said Friday. Truong Thi Mai, chairwoman of the assembly's Committee on Social Affairs, said her committee had recommended scrapping Article 199 of the country's Criminal Code, which prescribes prison sentences of up to two years for persistent drug users. Dealing drugs would remain a serious criminal offense, punishable in some cases by death.

"Being addicted to or using drugs should be considered a disease, and should only be subject to administrative fines," Mai said. "We cannot jail hundreds of thousands of [drug users], can we?"

Vietnam addresses drug addiction through mandatory drug detoxification centres, in which drug users are confined for periods of two years or, in the case of a few centers, up to five years. Local government authorities maintain lists of drug addicts in their districts and send cases to the detoxification centers at their discretion.

In practice, Mai said, the legal change would have little effect, since almost no drug users are prosecuted under Article 199. Instead, they are generally sent to the detoxification camps, said Le Minh Loan, a police chief and former director of the anti-narcotics department in Son La province, which borders Laos and has one of the highest heroin addiction rates in Vietnam.

"I think it makes sense to drop the article," Loan said. "Few countries in the world sentence drug addicts to prison terms."

However, Loan said the detoxification model has flaws as well. "The rate of relapse into drug use is very high."

Phung Quang Thuc, director of a detoxification centre in Hanoi with some 1,100 inmates, said many of those in his camp were there for the second time. According to Mai, some 90 per cent of those released from the detoxification camps eventually return to drug use.

Critics of the camp system say there are few opportunities for those released from the camps to find jobs, reintegrate into society, or get support in staying off drugs, and that they usually gravitate back towards their old social circles and habits.

The government sponsors community-based support groups for former drug addicts, but the groups have only been implemented in Hanoi. A 2007 evaluation found they were underfunded and ineffective, and that most former addicts relapsed within a year of release from the detoxification camps.

The most common recreational drug in Vietnam is heroin, which contributes to the country's HIV epidemic through the use of shared needles.

Vietnam has strict laws forbidding sales of illegal drugs. A total of 85 people were sentenced to death for drug crimes in 2007, and nine more have received death sentences so far this year.

But National Assembly member Mai said the campaign to eliminate drug dealing was not succeeding.

"Many people have been sentenced to death for trafficking heroin, but heroin trafficking is still rampant," Mai said. "The traffickers know that the laws are strict but they are still trafficking narcotics."


This story is reproduced from


Anonymous said...

Mexico's congress was set to 'decrim' or, 'legalize' possession/use of "personal amounts" of cannabis plus the harder 'illicit' drugs. After intervention by Bush himself, the measure was allowed to die. Mexico's reward; approximately $500,000,000.- $350,000,000. for the next "fiscal year". Measure is being debated now. Is Vietnam's move to 'decrim' sincere or, just jockeying for a piece of US drug war aid? The militaries of these countries love this action as much of the "foreign aid" will have military applications.

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