SENIOR associate at Brentwood Chambers and prominent lawyer Aleck Chimhofu says archaic laws are scuttling the fight against drugs abuse in the country as they do not recognise names of substances such as crystal meth and bronclear that have emerged in recent years, resulting in drug lords being set free at the courts, much to the detriment of the general public.
Speaking during a workshop organised by the National Aids Council in Darwindale recently, Chimhofu said there is a need for Parliament to amend the existing laws so that they specify the names of substances that are being taken, mostly by youths in order to get high.
Drugs and substances in Zimbabwe are primarily regulated by a number of primary legislative instruments and The constitution of Zimbabwe, Act of 2013.
The existing laws include the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act [Chapter 9:23] as amended; the Dangerous Drugs Act [Chapter 15:02 Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act [Chapter 9:07], International Treaties and Conventions (section 327 of the constitution).
Zimbabwe also observes international instruments such as the Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961; Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (1988).
Section 155 of the Criminal Law Code defines dangerous drugs as any coca bush, coca leaf, raw opium or cannabis plant, prepared opium, prepared cannabis or cannabis resin.
Scheduled drugs are those specific drugs listed in Part I and II of the Schedule to the Dangerous Drugs Act. Part I of the schedule lists drugs which are classified as Dangerous Drugs.
Part II lists those classified under Prohibited Drugs, which include methylenedioxymethamphetamine which however is not crystal meth, also known as dioxymethamphetamine in scientific terms.
Crystal meth, commonly known as mutoriro, is the new drug being abused in the streets by youths but is not specified as a prohibited drug under the existing laws.
“Because crystal meth is not specified as a prohibited drug. We have seen arrests and raids of drug lords being made by police, but when the cases go to court, they are set free because of the technicality. I have lost memory of the names and number of people I represented who were set free on that technicality.
“Parliament, under the circumstances, must therefore do its work, that is amend the Dangerous Drugs Act so that it explicitly specify all names of drugs that are illegal such as crystal meth and not leave a chance for defence lawyers to argue that all their clients caught selling or abusing the drug cannot be convicted,” he said.
Chimhofu said, as it stands, accused persons of crystal meth are arguing that they will have been arrested on the basis of a non-existent law.
“This is the reason why you see a person well known for selling drugs is arrested but after going to court they come back after having been freed and they start selling again. Most of the cases are actually struck off the roll at the stage of vetting by prosecution before they even get into court. In some instances the magistrates may say I can’t let you go because there is huge outcry on drugs, but if that person appeals at the High Court they are set free,” he said.
Chimhofu cited a case of the state-versus-Mutyambizi who was set free at the High Court after having been convicted at the magistrates’ court for possession of crystal meth on the basis that it is not specified as a dangerous drug.
“The judge in delivering judgement actually said the prosecutors must be diligent enough when vetting matters for prosecution to ensure that proper charges are brought against accused persons so as to avert such scenarios where a perpetrator of an offence drops off the hook due to a technicality,” he said.
Tadiwa Nyatanga, the NAC communications officer, said during the Darwindale workshop that there is a relationship between drugs and HIV in that drug lords create a space for unprotected sex that can cause new infections.
“The fight against drugs therefore becomes part of our programming meant to end new infections of HIV by 2030,” she said.
According to the inter-ministerial report from a taskforce led by Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri presented in cabinet in October, raids and operations against drug suppliers, dealers and peddlers saw 5 367 offenders being nabbed between 7 July and 23 September 2023.
It represented a sharp increase in the 4 328 arrests made for the whole year of 2022. A total of 81 bases, where drug users and peddlers converge to sell and consume drugs, were destroyed during that period.
Cabinet highlighted that four ZRP Drugs and Narcotics Units had been established at four border posts, namely Beitbridge, Victoria Falls, Chirundu and Mutare. These points of entry were meant to curtail the inflow of drugs.
Inland border posts were also established at Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo and Victoria Falls international airports, with technologies like drones introduced to monitor the country’s ports of entry in addition to the traditional surveillance methods in order to reduce smuggling and trafficking of drugs.
The taskforce also said that interventions by the Liquor Licensing Board had reduced unlicensed liquor outlets, vendors and peddlers as well as licensed outlets operating outside the agreed terms and conditions.
These included inspections of premises, investigations against public complaints and cancellation of licences. The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) cancelled seven licences for wholesalers and de-registered one during that time.