Hong Kong police are planning to ask judges to impose tougher sentences for those convicted of drug-related offences as part of efforts to clamp down on narcotics trafficking amid a recent surge in substance abusers.
The force’s narcotics bureau on Monday said it would ask courts to hand down stiffer penalties for drug offences that police considered “rampant”, but stopped short of laying out the exact criteria behind the characterisation.
“There isn’t a hard rule on the number of cases needed for a crime to be considered rampant. […] As to how much the penalty will be raised, the court will have full discretion,” said Ng Wing-sze, the bureau’s chief superintendent.
The force currently encourages judges to hand down tougher sentences to adult defendants who exploit minors to procure, supply or traffic narcotics.
Hong Kong this year witnessed a drop in the number of narcotics cases and juveniles arrested for drug-related offences, but police said authorities had recorded an increase in substance abusers.
Police figures showed the number of drug-related prosecutions during the first eight months of this year had fallen to 1,730 cases from 2,068 over the same period in 2022, representing a decrease of 16.3 per cent.
The data also found the number of arrestees aged 10 to 20 had fallen 35.6 per cent over the same period, dropping from 320 to 206.
A further breakdown of this year’s figures showed 23 of those arrested were aged 10 to 15, while the rest were 16 to 20.
But the city recorded a 12.2 per cent rise in the number of substance abusers, with cases rising from 2,813 in the first half of 2022 to 3,156 between January and June of this year.
Authorities also found that the number of substance abusers aged 21 and below had dropped from 421 to 368 over the same period.
Discussing police efforts to protect youngsters, Chief Superintendent Ng on Monday said police would continue to warn teenagers about the dangers of using and trafficking narcotics.
She cited the arrest of a 13-year-old boy in June on suspicion of receiving a parcel containing 1kg of cannabis, saying the student was the youngest alleged offender recorded this year.
The force at the time said its investigation suggested the 13-year-old had acted under the instructions of another suspect, aged 15, who recruited the former after being told to by a 31-year-old man.
“Traffickers will tell minors that even if they are arrested, it will not be a big deal as they will not go to court and will be [placed] under the superintendent’s discretion scheme – that they will be allowed to go free,” Ng said. “This is a lie.”
The chief superintendent said that traffickers often exploited teenagers’ desire for quick cash to buy luxury goods or fund leisure activities, luring youth in with the promise of low-skilled jobs offering high pay.
Government data showed cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine were the most commonly intercepted narcotics in Hong Kong, with cocaine accounting for 23.4 per cent of all illegal drugs detected in the first eight months of this year.
Catherine Hor Hong-huan, assistant professor in chemistry at Baptist University, on Monday warned that using cocaine would cause a loss of self-control among long-term users.
“Cocaine can cause neurons in our brain to release excessive amounts of neurotransmitters, amplifying messages sent across nerves,” she said. “Hence, a large intake would cause excitement, violent tempers and insomnia.”
The scholar also said that the risks of taking cannabis include a loss of cognition, judgment and self-control as a result of the narcotic damaging nerve cells in the brain.
Meanwhile, police said that many dealers had shifted to selling narcotics online, relying on social media to reach young buyers and avoiding keyword searches by officers by listing prices on harder-to-find images.
“Dealers will sell illegal drugs with detailed prices listed on online platforms and delivery services included,” Ng said. “Their shameful actions are prevalent.”
The force last week arrested 16 suspects linked to a Telegram group selling cannabis. The group included two administrators for the chat.
Ng said officers had taken over the online chat room after the arrests, posting a police warrant and freezing activity on the group to prevent further messages and collect evidence.