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Parliament proposes to retain power to update drug list

The legislative committee of the National Assembly has proposed to empower the Narcotics Control Board to identify and add new drugs as prohibited drugs in consultation with the parliament.

Section 59 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act 2015 reserves the power to add or delete substances in the Schedules that are incorporated in the Act. The Bill will be introduced as an urgent Bill, which needs to be passed in the same session.

The draft Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill, which will be tabled in the current session, states: “The Board in consultation with Parliament 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.”

A Supreme Court judgement in July authorised the Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority to update the list of banned drugs as and when it would be necessary.

The legislative committee has proposed to include Tramadol (Spasmo Proxyvon Plus), the new narcotic drug with medicinal value, under the Schedule III in the Act.

Chairman of the legislative committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said that the committee wanted to retain with the parliament the power to amend the Schedules that contain lists of prohibited drugs.

“If we fully give the power to the Board the parliament’s function would be questioned,” he said.

However, he added that the committee wanted to keep the meaning of the proposed Section broad by stating that the Board should “consult the Parliament”.

MP Ritu Raj Chhetri said, “If we go by the strict meaning of the line such changes should be discussed and approved on the floor of the parliament.”

In a broader meaning, he said that the change means that the Speaker in consultation with the legislative committee may authorize such a change.

He said the Act needs to be amended immediately since Bhutan does not have a system where a shortcoming in a law can be addressed through an ordinance. “Sometimes there might be a situation where we cannot wait for the next session of parliament to amend a law,” he said.

The National Council plans to hold a consultation meeting with officials from the judiciary although the Council’s cultural committee has agreed to the proposal of the legislative committee.

The amendment of the Act by way of addition, variation, or repeal shall be effected by a simple majority of the respective Houses or vote of not less than two-thirds of the total members of the Parliament present and voting on the motion submitted by one third of the members of either House.

The Narcotics Control Board, which comprises officials from relevant ministries, provides necessary support to take all such measures for the purpose of preventing and combating the abuse and illicit trafficking, and to regulate the use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and other controlled substances.

According to the Act, the offence of illegal possession of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances listed in Schedule III shall be a misdemeanour. The offence of illicit trafficking of any substance listed under Schedule III shall be a felony of third degree if the quantity is equal to or more than two times the quantity determined by the law.

The Supreme Court ruled that the parliament had failed to envision drug-related problems in the future when it specified and prescribed the list of prohibited drugs and psychotropic substances in the Act.

In a case that was before the court, the defendants who were caught by authorities for abusing SP+ argued that they could not be prosecuted because the drug does not featured on the lists of banned substances.

“The list of prohibited narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances should actually have been left to be included in the rules and regulations of the Act and not as the annexure of the Act,” the judgment stated.

MB Subba

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