After remaining stuck between the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police and the provincial Excise Department for over two years, the KP Control of Narcotics Substance Act 2019 finally secured approval from the assembly last month.
The new law includes heavy fines and prison terms to curb narcotics trade in the province. It covers the newly merged districts and includes Ice (methamphetamine) in the narcotics category.
Although the initial draft of the law was introduced in the KP Assembly in 2017, by the KP Excise, Taxation and Narcotics Control Department, it could not get approval from the House because of backdoor manoeuvres by KP Police. It was rumoured at that the time that the police wanted the powers outlined in the bill, which included conducting raids and searches on check-posts for narcotics.
Prior to this law, the police were using powers conferred through a statutory regulatory order issued by the federal government under Control of Narcotics Substance Act (1997). The KP Control of Narcotics Substance Act 2019 repealed the federal law.
The initial draft of the bill did not give powers to the police. Asad Qaiser, then assembly speaker, deferred the bill for revision and long deliberations between the police and the excise department resulted in the former being empowered to work as officers of the Narcotics Control Wing of the Excise Department for searching and seizing narcotics.
Special courts will be set up for cases being tried under the law
According to the new law, a narcotics control wing in the KP Directorate General of Excise, Taxation and Narcotics has to be established. A director will be head the wing with his own staff appointed by the government.
The law slaps a ban on cultivation of the cannabis plant, coca bushes and opium poppy without proper licenses. These will be given exclusively for medical, scientific or industrial purposes.
Those who violate the law shall be liable for punishment of up to seven years imprisonment or fines or both. Similarly, it also bans manufacturing, producing, keeping and transporting narcotics. Punishment for violations is up to two years imprisonment or fines or both.
For narcotics between 50 and 100 grams, the imprisonment is up to three years and a fine between Rs50,000 and Rs100,000.
For 100 grams and up to one kilogram, the imprisonment is up to seven years and the fine shall be between Rs100,000 and Rs300,000. Similarly, for narcotics above one kilogram, punishment may be death sentence, imprisonment for life or a fine between Rs0.5 million to Rs1 million.
The law has separate punishments for Ice or methamphetamine, which has become a menace in the province. It sets an imprisonment of at least seven years and imposes a fine of Rs0.3 million for ice quantity not exceeding 100 grams.
For ice exceeding 100 grams and up to one kilogram, the imprisonment shall be at least 10 years and a fine of not less than Rs0.5 million. Similarly, for quantities of the drug exceeding one kilogram, the law puts death penalty or life imprisonment with Rs1 million fine.
The law also sets imprisonment between 10 and 25 years with a fine that goes up to Rs5 million for owing, operating and managing a premises where narcotics are made or processed. For those who are found guilty of owning and operating premises or machinery for manufacturing of narcotics, the imprisonment is up to 25 years but not less than 10 years, while the fine in such cases ranges between Rs1 million to Rs5 million.
The law also bans acquisition and possession of assets derived from narcotics and for those who possess or transfer such assets, it sets imprisonment of up to 14 years. The fine amount in such cases shall not be less than the prevailing value of the assets and such assets shall also be liable to forfeiture to the government.
Offences under the act are cognizable and non-bailable. The government has to establish special courts for cases being tried under the law.
These special courts may issue to an authorized officer a warrant for arrest of any person accused of committing any offence under this act. The authorized officer can search any building or dwelling for narcotics. A lady constable has to be taken along for a search of a house being used by women.
Moreover, the act also grants powers of entry and search of a place without warrant to the authorized officer when he or she has information about narcotics concealed in the place when a warrant from the special court will provide offenders opportunity to conceal evidence or escape.
The authorized officer has the power to seize narcotics in any public place, search and arrest any person whom he has reason to believe has committed an offence punishable under this law.
There is also a deterrence mechanism for officers to stop them from misuse of their authority and the act sets a three-year jail term and Rs50,000 fine for officers who, without reasonable grounds of suspicion, enters and searches a building or unnecessarily seizes property or arrests a person.
The government will establish a KP Narcotics Control Training and Awareness Academy for capacity building, mass awareness and training for the staff. The government will also establish Excise Police Stations across the province and KP Narcotics and Forensics Science Laboratory.
The law carries a separate chapter for mutual cooperation and assistance with the federal government and governments of other provinces for facilitation of each other to curb narcotics trade in the country. This includes sharing of information, evidences, assistance in recovery of fines and forfeiture of assets.
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar