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May 2008
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Vietnam

Transform reports on an interesting development in Vietnam:

Vietnam’s National Assembly is considering decriminalizing drug use, downgrading the personal use of illegal narcotics from a criminal offense to an administrative violation, a Vietnamese legislator said Friday. […]
“Being addicted to or using drugs should be considered a disease, and should only be subject to administrative fines,” Mai said. “We cannot jail hundreds of thousands of [drug users], can we?” […]
“I think it makes sense to drop the article,” Loan said. “Few countries in the world sentence drug addicts to prison terms.”

But don’t book your flight for Hanoi just yet.

Vietnam addresses drug addiction through mandatory drug detoxification centres, in which drug users are confined for periods of two years or, in the case of a few centers, up to five years. Local government authorities maintain lists of drug addicts in their districts and send cases to the detoxification centers at their discretion.
In practice, Mai said, the legal change would have little effect, since almost no drug users are prosecuted under Article 199. Instead, they are generally sent to the detoxification camps…

And how does that work?

some 90 per cent of those released from the detoxification camps eventually return to drug use.
Critics of the camp system say there are few opportunities for those released from the camps to find jobs, reintegrate into society, or get support in staying off drugs, and that they usually gravitate back towards their old social circles and habits.

What about selling drugs?

Dealing drugs would remain a serious criminal offense, punishable in some cases by death. […]
A total of 85 people were sentenced to death for drug crimes in 2007, and nine more have received death sentences so far this year.

Now our drug warriors like to point to harsh drug laws as a deterrent. It’s hard to get any harsher than death. So how has that worked?

“Many people have been sentenced to death for trafficking heroin, but heroin trafficking is still rampant,” Mai said. “The traffickers know that the laws are strict but they are still trafficking narcotics.”

The drug war. It’s hard to imagine a more obvious failure that is nonetheless glorified worldwide.

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