Suspected drug users face stricter on-the-spot testing in Hong Kong

Public consulted on new powers for police to act if drugs found and suspect appears intoxicated

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 4:15am

Should police have powers to conduct on-the-spot tests if they detect the presence of drugs and a suspect shows signs of intoxication?

That's the question being asked of Hongkongers in a public consultation launched yesterday on proposals from an anti-drugs committee for mandatory drug testing.

A rights group has raised concerns about giving police such powers, but the secretary for security said safeguards would be put in place to prevent abuse.

At the moment, police can only demand a test if drugs are found on a suspect.

The idea behind the community drug testing scheme is to identify abusers at an early stage and allow swifter intervention.

Drug abuse has become harder to detect in recent years, with over 80 per cent of abusers in official records saying they took drugs at home or friends' homes.

People are also taking drugs for longer before being detected - an average of four years compared with just less than two years in 2008.

"No one will be intercepted by the police on the street unless the two conditions are present," said the chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics, Daniel Shek Tan-lei.

As with the test for drug driving, only trained police officers would be allowed to conduct on-the-spot screening tests, such as observing how a suspect answers simple questions.

Those considered to be under the influence of drugs would then have to take impairment tests, such as an eye examination or balancing on one leg. These tests would be conducted in police stations and recorded. Those who fail one or more tests will need to provide a bodily sample. Those under 18 will take the test in the presence of their parents or an independent third party such as a journalist or legislator.

Shek said the scheme aimed to give offenders a chance to undergo rehabilitation instead of facing prosecution after a first or second offence.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the consultation included suggestions for preventing police misconduct. He said the bureau also recognised that there may not be enough police or social workers to implement such a scheme.

Chong Yiu-kwong, deputy chairman of Human Rights Monitor, said giving police the right to conduct mandatory drug tests was a fundamental change and there was nothing in the consultation to convince the public that such a loss of rights was warranted.

"If the government is granted more power every time a problem arises, this will take Hong Kong in a dangerous direction," Chong said.

Wong Po-man, head of the Community Drug Advisory Council, was disappointed there was no mention of an independent review committee to handle complaints.

Wong also said the scheme did not tackle the root causes of drug taking, such as social and family problems.

Government figures show seizures of Ecstasy tablets rose almost tenfold year on year, from 66kg to 650kg, between January and August.