Vietnam Death Sentence

January 3- The Denver Rocky Mountain News reports: Vietnamese courts sentenced 55 people to death last year on drug-related charges, state-controlled media reported Friday.

Fifty-nine other people were given life sentences for drug offenses and 2,241 others received jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years, the official Vietnam News Agency said.

In 1997, Vietnam toughened penalties for drug-related crimes.  Possessing, trading or trafficking more than 3.5 ounces of heroin or 11 pounds of opium are punishable by death.  However, drug crimes show no sign of decline, and Vietnam has 130,000 drug addicts with police records.

January 4- The UK Guardian reports: Three changes to the administration of our drugs laws are promised this year.  Together, they will help move Britain to a more rational approach.  For too long the country has suffered under the most stringent - but the least effective - laws in Europe.  Waging wars on drug users only produce wars on our children, as increasing numbers of parents have become aware.  Up to half of all children have experimented with drugs before leaving school.

All three changes move our laws to a more sensible goal: harm reduction.  David Blunkett deserves credit for authorising the changes that are in the pipeline: downgrading cannabis from a class B to a class C drug, thus making it a non-arrestable offence; wider use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, once current studies have been completed; and encouraging a return to prescribing heroin, moving the addiction from criminal offence to medical need.

There was even more encouraging news this week when the Metropolitan police revealed that a pilot project in Brixton was proving successful.  Under the scheme, people caught with small amounts of cannabis are given an on the spot warning, rather than prosecuted or given a formal caution.  A warning is a lesser penalty than a caution.  It is recorded by the police but does not have to be declared by someone applying for a job.

Arresting someone for possessing pot requires five hours of extra work and can cost UKP 500 in court time.  The pilot has saved 2,000 hours of police time, allowing police officers to get back on the streets to pursue serious offenders, such as crack cocaine dealers.  The aim is to roll out the scheme across London and hopefully beyond the capital, too.

January 4- The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports: The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about police power to search passengers on public transportation, a case the Bush administration says applies to the war on terrorism.

The court said it will decide if police who want to look for drugs or evidence of other crimes must first must inform public transportation passengers of their legal rights.  The ruling could clarify what police may and may not do as they approach and search a passenger.

"Programs that rely on consensual interactions between police officers and citizens on means of public transportation are an important part of the national effort to combat the flow of illegal narcotics and weapons," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote.

January 6- The Calgary Sun reports: The city's health authority is drafting procedural plans that will allow patients to smoke marijuana while in their care, officials have told the Sun.

As the Canadian government readies its first batch of medicinal marijuana for transport, officials at the Calgary Health Region are devising strategy to deal with requests by patients wanting to use marijuana while on hospital property, by providing "a safe and private place" for users to smoke.

"It would be appropriate to recognize ... that we have to look at all options for the use of marijuana in our hospitals," CHR communications adviser Brenda Barootes told the Sun.

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