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Proposed law spells doom for drug barons

By Jacqueline Mahugu | December 1st 2020 at 08:30:00 GMT +0300

In 2014, a drug peddler and user found out that one of her customers, Rosemary Kirimi, was also selling drugs for her rival.

“I needed money to sustain my habit,” says Ms Kirimi. “When she found out that I was selling drugs for her rival, she set me up by throwing drugs into a room and I was caught by anti-narcotics officers.”

She was charged with being in possession of psychotropic drugs and narcotic substances and granted a Sh30,000 cash bail. After court mentions, the bail was reduced to Sh10,000 and the very same peddler who set her up paid the money after being coerced by other users. Kirimi was released after one-and-a-half months.

“Even the anti-narcotics officer who arrested me used to come to the streets to collect “taxes”. God made a way for me to go for rehabilitation for one year. Because I had absconded all my court days while in rehab, I asked the rehab to write a letter I could present in court. The anti-narcotics officer withdrew the case because he knew me,” she says.

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This case represents one of the problems the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is trying to solve. The Bill, authored by Nyali MP Mohammed Ali, targets traffickers and peddlers much more than the law currently does while being milder on users, who Ali and other proponents say should be rehabilitated.

Jail term

Under the proposed law, the peddler who set up Kirimi would have been the one to face a 10-year jail term and fines of up to Sh20 million, or three times the market value of the drugs.

Victor Okioma, the chief executive of the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) says the authority wants stricter controls to deal with the supply of drugs. The fines in the current law are based on market rates from 1994.

“The Narcotics and Psychotropics Act of 1994 has various weaknesses that have necessitated the amendments. The penalties don’t match the devastating effects the substances have on the health of the community,” said Mr Okioma.

Nacada is conducting public participation for the Bill on Twitter due to measures put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“This is the Bill to tame drug barons,” says Mr Ali. “The Bill is divided into three categories: one for barons, two for wholesalers, and three for users. Before, the Bill never categorised offenders into classes.”

According to the draft law, a person found in possession of less than a gramme of drugs faces a fine of not less than Sh5 million, or imprisonment for not less than five years, or both. A person found in possession of between 1 gramme and 100 grammes will be fined not less than Sh30 million or be imprisoned for 30 years, or suffer both. Those found with more than 100 grammes will be fined not less than Sh50 million or three times the market value, whichever is greater.

The Bill also gives the police power to intercept communications between traffickers and drug barons, install CCTV in their premises and areas of operation to collect video evidence. It also allows the government to access their offshore accounts and repossess their property until they are proven innocent.

Punishing officers

The current law lacks provisions for punishing law enforcement officers who aid or conceal drug trafficking like the anti-narcotics officer in Kirimi’s case, who collects “taxes” from users, peddlers and traffickers. Under the proposed law, the officer would face five years in prison or Sh20 million bond.

Former Nacada chairman John Mututho has commended the Bill, congratulating the 12th Parliament “and especially the Committee of Security and Foreign Affairs” for making it happen. The former MP says the 10th and 11th Parliaments tried to pass the Bill in vain.

“It failed because of interests,” Mututho says. “These people are extremely powerful. Even now I am telling the 12th Parliament that they should not take more than 20 minutes to deal with the issue.”

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