“A hit list is a double-edged sword. Those who feel threatened by a hit list can also hit back by coming up with their own hit list”

Qs & As

Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill & Medical Cannabis

* ‘As the facts stand at this stage, it appears that the police have a prima facie case against B. Laurette given the drugs seized from his vehicle’

* ‘Decriminalizing the use of drugs does not mean that people will have a free license and a total freedom to possess and use drugs at leisure’


Mauritius will join the group of countries that have legalised the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes only through the amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act of 2000. While medically authorized and controlled access to cannabis is a step in the right direction, there has been no movement to consider legalising the use of low-cannabinoid plant varieties or their commercially available derivatives either for personal, recreational usage or as a tool to curb the scourge of synthetics, as yet. Lex provides his views on the legal aspects and comments on the recent high-profile cases of cannabis seizures and the speculations that have been rife about those criminal arrests and charges.

* The 2020 report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy states that the ‘hundreds of thousands of people (who) have died, considered collateral victims of prohibition… represent the price paid for a policy that has only enriched and empowered criminal organizations, fuelled corruption and money laundering, and contributed to the increase of trafficking, the number of trafficking routes and networks…’ Does this strike a chord with what obtains in our small island as well – despite the best efforts of successive governments?

It is well known that prohibition may make drugs more attractive, especially to young people, and the more prohibition there is, the more attracted people get to the use of drugs. It all starts as a pleasure activity among friends and ends in tragedy. The policy of prohibition and the noisy publicity on the seizure of drugs or the big talks about breaking the back of drug barons are leading nowhere except to turn the country into an island of drug consumers with fatal consequences for some.

* With the amendments being brought to the Dangerous Drugs Act, in line with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking (2018), Mauritius will join the group of countries that have legalised the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes only. It’s a first shift away from the policy of repression, but that does not mean that the war on drugs will be won with this policy change, isn’t it?

There is no policy guidelines regarding the sentencing of convicted persons. For the same offence an accused may receive a heavy prison sentence before one magistrate and another one obtaining a lighter sentence from another magistrate. The same goes for drug offences.

The amendments brought to the law concerns only the use of drugs for therapeutic purposes. What about those drug users who do not need the drug for therapeutic purposes because they are hooked on drugs and need to get their regular doses? How will a therapeutic measure help such consumers? By not sending them to jail and trying to provide treatment to them will no doubt help, but will that be sufficient to curtail drug trafficking?

* The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill does not go in the direction of decriminalising people who use drugs. In fact, it refers to “… a person… suspected of having committed a drug offence for his personal consumption”. Are there however good reasons, based on evidence, to support the decriminalisation of recreational cannabis as well?

Decriminalization of drugs will only mean that there will be a control on drugs in the sense that the legal system will still be supervising the possession and consumption of drugs. Decriminalizing the use of drugs does not mean that people will have a free license and a total freedom to possess and use drugs

* What about the attitude of our courts towards consumers of drugs for recreational purposes such as cannabis? Aren’t these low-level and nonviolent consumers of “soft drugs” being unfairly punished by society and our justice system?

The Dangerous Drugs Act forbids the use of prohibited drugs for any purpose. The offence is there, and the use of a prohibited drug for recreational, religious or social purpose is punishable. It is as simple as that.

* Magistrates and judges do not make the law; they only apply it. That’s our understanding of how the system works, but can they go beyond what’s prescribed in the statute books and render justice that could help rehabilitate the individual and ultimately help society itself?

If no law provides for rehabilitation, a court of law cannot order same. The Dangerous Drugs Act 2000 provides an alternative to punishment in its section 34 which provides that before passing a sentence of imprisonment on a drug consumer the court shall explain to the convicted person that, if he undertakes to co-operate in order to be cured of his addiction, the court, instead of sentencing him to imprisonment, shall order him to undergo such treatment, education, after care, rehabilitation or social reintegration as the court thinks appropriate at such institution as may be prescribed and for such period not exceeding three years as the court may specify and, if he so undertakes, the court shall order for treatment accordingly.

And where the court is satisfied that the order has been complied with, the court shall discharge the offender. However, if the person fails to comply with an order made by the court, he shall commit an offence and shall be liable to a fine which shall not exceed Rs 5000 and to imprisonment for a term which shall not exceed one year.

Further the person in charge of the relevant institution prescribed for the purposes of rehabilitation shall notify a police officer attached to the Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit of any persistent failure by any person to comply with the terms of an order.

* Is it market demand, the low effectiveness of controls or the very nature of prohibition that makes drug business a highly lucrative temptation, with its barons, mules and circuits?

It is a combination of all three factors. As with any commodity the law of supply and demand plays a key role. Control there is but in the wrong direction in that only small fries who would by any stretch of the imagination be unable to afford astronomic sums of money to buy drugs worth millions of rupees are arrested and jailed.

The drug barons have established a very comprehensive network of importing, stocking and distribution of drugs. One may well ask whether there have been any concerted and coordinated actions between the police and the other authorities in the financial and anti-money laundering sector to monitor such networks.

* The latest case that’s grabbing headlines relates to the arrest of social activist/politician Bruneau Laurette, who has been booked on numerous charges, including apparently drug trafficking. Questions have been raised about the source of the drugs or the existence of a so-called “hit-list” targeting political adversaries of the regime. All the facts are not yet available to help in our understanding of what’s happening, who is doing what and with what motivations. What’s your take on this case?

Without all the facts and evidence, it would be hard to comment on this case.

One allegation made in the wake of his arrest is that the drugs would have been planted in his car. There is also the other allegation about the police having apparently rubbed their hands on his face to obtain his DNA and possibly rubbed that same DNA material on the sachets of drugs found in his car.

It remains to be proved whether the planting theory is true or not and whether it will stand up in court. But as the facts stand at this stage, it appears that the police have a prima facie case against him given the drugs seized from his vehicle.

We have to wait and see whether a magistrate will go along with the version of the police or examine the evidence thoroughly and probe every aspect before coming to a decision.

* In the wake of the arrest of Bruneau Laurette, a number of his close associates and even lawyers, who suspect they also may figure on the alleged hit list of the regime, have gone to register precautionary measures with the police. What is the importance of a precautionary measure, and how does it help?

Members of the public make a statement of precautionary measure to the police. But one wonders whether the police have the time to bother about precautionary measures the more so if they come from those perceived to be opponents of the present regime. To that extent, a precautionary measure serves no purpose.

We can only hope there is no such thing as a hit list of persons perceived to be vigorous opponents of the regime and who have to be targeted. If that is indeed the case, Mauritius would be on the way to becoming a rogue State.

A hit list is a double-edged sword. Those who feel threatened by a hit list can also hit back by coming up with their own hit list. We would not want to venture into such a territory, would we?

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 11 November 2022

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