Burmese Dissidents Broach Opium Decriminalization

As Burma’s opium wars continue despite the country’s democratic opening, activists are using the new political space to advocate for a more tolerant policy on poppy cultivation.

At a Feb. 16 panel in Rangoon, the Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG) issued a call for a reform of Burma’s drug laws, The Irrawady newspaper reported.

“The 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law focuses on punishment. But what then, after a drug user is given imprisonment?” asked DPAG coordinator Dr. Nang Pann Ei Kham. “The 1993 law is out of date, and what’s more, is that it has not been a successful law [in terms of] drug elimination.”

Under the 1993 act, a prison term of five to 10 years is imposed for any narcotics offense.

This, of course, has done nothing to slow Burma’s booming opium production. The country has, for decades, vied with Afghanistan for the dubious honor of the world’s top producer. It is currently in the second place slot, but rapidly catching up.

DPAG has been working to develop an advocacy platform for “non-punitive, evidence-based drug policy changes” in the country. The network was formed in 2014 under the name “Support, Don’t Punish,” to give voice to opium growers in the northern mountains who have been protesting government eradication campaigns.

Key recommendations raised by DPAG at the Rangoon meet included decriminalization of drug use and small-scale poppy cultivation by those with limited sources of livelihood.

The group also recommended voluntary treatment instead of punishment for drug addiction, and shifting the focus of enforcement to large-scale trafficking.

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