Brief Overview of Narcotics Legislation

Published Aug. 2, 2019, 2:18 p.m. by Moderator


Narcotic drugs fall into three major classes


Drugs are classified based on


(i)                 whether the drug is being misused;


(ii)               whether it is likely to be misused and


(iii)              Whether the misuse in either case is having or could have harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem.


 


Narcotic drugs fall into the following categories; Class A, Class B, and Class C.


Class A drugs include Cocaine, Crack, Ecstasy, LSD, Heroin and Methamphetamine popularly known as “Meth” or “Crystal Meth”. They are the most commonly used drugs in United States, Europe and South America. 


Class B drugs include amphetamines, barbiturates and


Class C drugs include cannabis, Pholcodine, GHB Temazepam, , Ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), anabolic steroids, Valium  , mild amphetamines  (Rand Corporation Technical Report Series 2006).


Most countries in the world have similar drug legislation with some variation occurring in the classification category. The basic tenets of the different drug classification laws and systems, prohibit the possession of a controlled drug; possession with intent to supply; to supply or offer to supply of a controlled drug (even in cases of no charges conferred); and to allow your premises to be used for the purpose of drug taking or trafficking (Misuse of Drug Act, 1971).


Narcotic drugs are divided into classes A, B or C based on several types of evidence “including, but not limited to, scientific or medical facts, interpretations and 'expert' opinions. Also included are political, cultural and social factors and 'popular' interpretations and opinions” (Misuse of Drug Act UK, 1971). The classification also considers the harm done by the drug, essentially in terms of health related complications linked with the use of that substance.


The main killers are heroin and cocaine; both Class A and are highly addictive with Crack being the most addictive. Amphetamines are classified according to the mode of ingestion; Class A when injected and Class B when administered orally, the intravenous administration of amphetamines produces a better kick than oral ingestion. Class C drugs such as Cannabis have lesser penalties for possession or use and are less addictive, class C drugs are considered “transition drugs”, it is thought that they serve as a gateway to the Class A and B drugs (Rand Corporation Technical Report Series 2006).


Narcotics as Evidence


According to the Transnational Institute series report it states that “it is becoming clear that there are no ‘magic numbers’ in drug policy” and only specific and empirical based formulas can be used as benchmarks for convictions. The threshold of evidence needed to sustain a conviction varies within countries within some like Sweden maintaining a zero drug policy with maximum sentences for possession and supply while the others like United States and United Kingdom having a varied sentencing structure with possession being a misdemeanor in small quantities and a felony with large quantities.


Threshold quantities (TQ’S) for drug laws and policy are currently on trial across various jurisdictions around the world. TQs are set based on either on the total mass of a substance e.g. in the UK, its based on its purity i.e. the mass of its active principle; street-value e.g. Ireland; or a mixture of the two principles e.g. Czech Republic. Drug enforcement agencies prefer mass over purity as it allows them to report to the public that a larger amount of a narcotics has been confiscated, prosecuted or punished by them.


There is a clear distinction between possession for personal use and for supply. In the case whereby a person(s) are apprehended with narcotics, the prevailing circumstances determine the charge, whether the suspects are drug dependent and bought in bulk hence the reason for the huge quantities but with no intention to supply. These parameters reduce the suspects’ culpability and have less harm to the community. Another instance occurs when one is caught with a small quantity but in there is further evidence of paraphernalia e.g. weighing scales, cash, surveillance footage which indicates an “ongoing drug operation”. (Transnational Institute Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 14 May 2011).


Culpability based on quantity has to provide evidence showing the intention to distribute or an ongoing distribution cycle, without any reasonable doubt, this is to prevent wrongful conviction or wrongful acquittal. For general conviction for possession of drugs, the quantities vary from different countries and on drugs e.g.  0.5 gms or below of cocaine, up to 100 gms of cannabis, 0.05 gms of heroin are considered by law as meant for personal use, any quantity above the following figures  are considered misdemeanors or felonies depending on the drug laws that operate. In case of cannabis plants, a threshold of more than five plants is considered a felony in most cases. (Transnational Institute Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 14 May 2011).


Due to the changing environment of scientific and medical knowledge, the evidence from a drug bust has to be catalogued and well documented from the crime scene, properly and secured in a storage facility and produced in a courtroom as prosecution evidence with all its integrity intact, it follows a process known as a chain of custody. This process starts with the crime scene investigators gathering and documenting the evidence to identify  the item with a unique number, describing the item, and providing a record of all parties handling, various storage locations, along with dates and times of the transactions to assist any other handlers of the evidence.                     


Narcotics should be stored in a room temperature controlled environment that maintains 45% to 60% relative humidity prior to sending to the forensic lab. In the forensic lab, toxicologists conduct a number of tests to establish the chemical components of the seized drugs, which will satisfy the threshold to institute court proceedings. Narcotics are high profile items and require extra internal controls that provide a clearly documented chain of custody; Documenting the person who authorized the transfer, the person who released the item, and the person who received the item along with dates and times. Any time that property or evidence is released to a person, the receiving and releasing investigator’s signature, destination, date and time should be required. (IAPE Standards Section 9 – Narcotics)


A court subpoena or a supervisor’s written approval provides a credible record of the evidence being taken out and the reasons stated. Any time there is movement of narcotics from the evidence room, documentation in the form of a tickler or suspense file that notes when items are out to the crime lab, out for investigation , and out to court, out to another agency, and who is the officer in charge. This tickler file will prompt the property officer to inquire regarding the item when it has not returned in a timely manner. (IAPE Standards Section 9 – Narcotics)


The evidence officer is required to query all signed out evidence on a periodic basis. Narcotics are usually queried on the next working day. All narcotics to be used in a court proceeding and not returned by the end of the court day should have a receipt signed by an officer of the court along with a court stamp. This receipt is taken to the evidence officer in order to update the evidence records. (IAPE Standards Section 9 – Narcotics).


The presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of international law. The evidence collected has to be well documented,  meet the minimum threshold quantity needed and the offender is presumed innocence and has a right to an attorney and fair hearing, the prosecution has to provide the case files to the offenders attorney to ensure that both sides are best prepared.


Sources:


International Association for Property and Evidence, Inc. Professional Standards, (2010). IAPE Standards Section 9 Version 2: Page 1 - 8


Genevieve Harris, (May 2011). The Transnational Institute, Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 14: Pg 1 - 12


Ruth Levitt, Edward Nason, Michael Hallsworth, (May 2011).  Rand Corporation Technical Report Series, (2006). A report for the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Scienceand Technology: Pg 3-10, 54 - 67



Misuse of Drug Act 1971


             


 

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