Colombo Telegraph

Re-Visiting The Narcotics Issue 

By Upatissa  Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

The arrests in Dubai of many celebrants, presumably Sri Lankans, in a joint operation by our Law Enforcement officials and the Dubai officials, has brought into focus many interesting issues.

1. Almost all the detainees have tested positive for narcotics and are to be brought before their Courts in Dubai.

2. Considering the UAE’s attitude towards, even alcohol and the heavy penalties that are imposed, it is probable that these arrestees may even invite execution.

3. This incident seems to have spurred our own authorities, (a Domino Effect?) with a catch of many local drug related operators. The links and operational details of how these kinds of criminal networks have functioned should be of obvious interest. How is it that the super-charged effort now had to await the Dubai operation? 

4. Will the pursuit of the local Drug Lords lead to more “juicy” disclosures?

5. What are the legal factors that will determine whether the prosecutions will take place in Dubai or Sri Lanka?

The unbelievably massive quantities of Heroin and the calculated Street Values of these seizures, is mind boggling. They may even exceed our annual budget! The detections probably represent only a very small fraction of the total amounts entering our country. When the hundreds of Kilograms of Heroin or similar drugs intercepted are converted to the average size of a “fix”, how do they match the number of addicts that we are supposed to harbor? It will most certainly outstrip by far, the amounts locally consumed. This would suggest that our estimate of addicts is abysmally low or that we are a trans-shipment point. Either does nothing to enhance our international reputation. It cannot escape our notice that only the small fry, who are caught peddling milligram amounts of drugs, are netted while the wholesale dealers escape attention.

The nexus between narcotic Drug Lords and politicians is obvious. A haul of some 200 odd Kilograms detected by Customs in containers, saw the office of the then Prime Minister (And Minister of Buddhasasana) intervening to get the Customs to release the suspect containers. There was also the case where a notorious kingpin was trapped by a carefully executed operation, when no less than the President of that time, arriving by helicopter to embrace the criminal, in a clear signal that the exercise be abandoned. In both instances, the public was not informed about ensuing actions – probably because there were none! How can a country so besmirched hope to command respect?    

Our President has recently repeated that the death penalty be imposed on the kingpins of the Drug menace. It is assumed that he will keep to his word, to sign the requisite papers to initiate action. Interestingly, we are reported to have ordered two new nooses because the ones we have perished through disuse. It is decades since the last hangings. Meanwhile, two new hangmen have been recruited (of whom one has resigned because he was bored through inaction). Here a distinction has to be made between derivatives of opium (the opiates that include heroin, morphine and cocaine) and Marijuana (Ganja) which has been de-criminalized in several countries – the latest being Canada. It is confidently expected that many may soon fall in line. There is considerable evidence of many health benefits (although this means that the claims are mostly anecdotal). This has to be so, because proper, rigorous trials could not be conducted as possession or cultivation were illegal.

Canada is well positioned to benefit from exports, to an expanding market as more and more countries lift restrictions. We may do well to go easy on an over-enthusiastic move to destroy plantations and to seize stocks. It is likely that much more liberal attitudes to marijuana – for medicinal and recreational use – will soon be a reality. The opium style narcotics are demonstrably vile and should continue to be pursued with utmost vigour as they are addictive, intoxicating and with many undesirable side effects. Ganja has found use as a meat tenderizer and in Ayurvedic medications. It is claimed that they are non-addictive and that long term use does not lead to progression to the more potent opioids (as an “entry” drug). In fact, the reverse is true (that it functions as an “exit” drug) and may even help in rescuing addicts from the more harmful products). Both these claims are disputed. 

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