On May 20, 2021, Zambia enacted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 2021, repealing and replacing the 1993 act of the same name. According to its preamble, the objectives of the new act include revising and consolidating the law relating to narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and precursor chemicals as well as providing for special measures relating to the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of victims of drug abuse. This act was issued on the same day as the Cannabis Act, 2021 and the Industrial Hemp Act, 2021.
Drug Enforcement Commission
The act makes the Drug Enforcement Commission, one of the investigative commissions envisaged under the country’s Constitution, responsible for the administration of its provisions. (Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 2021 (Narcotics Drug Act) § 3; Zambia Constitution, 1991 (as amended through 2016) § 235.) The commission’s functions under the act include preventing, investigating, and controlling the supply and demand of drugs and precursor chemicals as well as preventing and investigating money laundering and related crimes. Another function is maintaining a national database on drug trafficking, drug abuse, and money laundering. (Narcotics Drugs Act § 4.)
Offenses and Penalties
The part of the act concerning offenses and penalties criminalizes a host of acts and sets applicable penalties. One notable provision criminalizes the consumption or administration of drugs. Violation of this provision is, on conviction, punishable by a fine or custodial sentence not exceeding two years. (§ 22.) The act also criminalizes possession of a drug or precursor chemical and makes violations punishable by a custodial sentence not exceeding 15 years. However, if the possession charge relates to cannabis or khat and the suspect admits committing the offense, the applicable penalty is only a fine. (§ 18.) In addition, the act criminalizes the cultivation of a plant that can be used as a drug; a violation of this ban is a crime, punishable on conviction by a fine, a custodial sentence not exceeding 10 years, or both. (§ 19.)
The act makes factual presumptions in relation to certain acts criminalized under its provisions. For example, if it is proven in the course of prosecuting a person for an offense under the act that a drug or precursor chemical was found in a vehicle under the person’s control, unless and until he can prove otherwise, he is presumed to have been found in possession of the drug or precursor. (§ 65.) Similarly, if it is proven in the course of prosecuting a person for possession of a drug or precursor chemical that the person was in found in unlawful possession of a drug or precursor chemical, until proven otherwise, the act presumes that the possession was for the purpose of trafficking. (§ 67.) As noted above, possession is punishable by a custodial sentence not exceeding 15 years and only by a fine if it involves cannabis or khat and the offender admits guilt. (§ 18.) However, trafficking is punishable by a custodial sentence ranging from one year to 25 years. (§ 15.)
Drug Treatment Order
The act accords courts a great deal of discretion in dealing with drug addicts convicted of drug offenses. On convicting a person for an offense under the act, if a court determines that the person is a drug addict, the court may order that the person be sent to a treatment and rehabilitation center. The time spent at a treatment and rehabilitation center must be “taken into account for the purpose of remission of a sentence imposed by the court.” (§ 79.) Once the court terminates the treatment program, it must reconsider the initially imposed sentence by taking into account the “nature of the person’s participation in the treatment program” and the sanctions imposed on the person, if any, during the program. The court may then set the initial sentence aside and discharge the person conditionally or unconditionally; set aside the initial sentence, defer passing a sentence, and discharge the person conditionally or unconditionally; set aside the initial sentence and impose any other sentence it deems fit for the offense; or confirm its initial sentence. (§ 80.)