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SCMP Thursday, November 23, 2000

122pc surge in drug arrests of young teens


The number of drug arrests involving youngsters aged 13-15 jumped 122 per cent in the first half of this year compared with the last six months of 1999, legislators were told.
From January to July, there were 377 such cases. For those aged 16 to 18, the number jumped by 48 per cent to 1,024.
The rise was attributed to the surge in popularity of rave drugs, particularly ketamine.
Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, speaking at the Legislative Council yesterday, blamed the increasing popularity of rave parties and the trend of youngsters attending such parties across the border. It was easier to obtain drugs such as ketamine on the mainland and prices were lower, she said.
Mrs Ip said the Government would recommend to judges that tougher sentencing be adopted for drug offences. The move followed criticism that judges had apparently failed to impose sentences that were heavy enough to deter drug abuse at rave parties.
In August, a swimming coach was given 200 hours of community service for selling dozens of Ecstasy tablets to undercover police at rave parties.
Mrs Ip said the Government shared concerns about sentencing and that the Department of Justice was satisfied the punishment of that case was in line with sentencing guidelines, which allow judges to make their own decisions on cases involving 2,000 tablets or fewer.
"We think the guideline may not sufficiently reflect the concerns nowadays over the damage done by Ecstasy to the community and the person who abuses it."
She said more expert views were being sought, such as the effects of abusing Ecstasy. The Government will recommend that the Judiciary revise guidelines at an appropriate time. Trafficking of dangerous drugs carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a $5 million fine.
Mrs Ip said the Government proposed adding ketamine to the Dangerous Drug Ordinance to tighten control over it. At the moment, the drug is dealt with as a poison under pharmacy laws, and penalties for possession are less severe than if it were a dangerous drug.
In the first nine months of the year, there were more than 800 cases involving illicit possession of the drug.
Figures tabled at Legco also revealed that there were 115 cases of possession of dangerous drugs and eight trafficking in dangerous drugs cases at rave parties since January.
Other offences included wounding, triad activities, possession of offensive weapons and theft.
Mrs Ip denied that the Government's $40 million publicity campaign against youth drug abuse had been ineffective. A survey investigating drug abuse, smoking and alcohol among 100,000 students will be carried out later.
This month, a social services group said the average age of teenage party-goers who took drugs was 16 and most had been popping pills for more than three years.