The new narcotics law in Iran


In my article, "Opium control in Iran - a new regime ",1 I described briefly the administrative measures which had been taken in Iran, after three years' study of the operation of the 1955 Opium Law, to improve the control of the narcotics traffic into and in Iran. I alluded both to the present problems which face Iran in this field and to a new law which was at that moment before the Iranian Parliament for enactment.


Author: A. H. Radji
Pages: 1 to 3
Creation Date: 1960/01/01

The new narcotics law in Iran

Dr. A. H. Radji Minister of Health of Iran

In my article, "Opium control in Iran - a new regime ",[1] I described briefly the administrative measures which had been taken in Iran, after three years' study of the operation of the 1955 Opium Law, to improve the control of the narcotics traffic into and in Iran. I alluded both to the present problems which face Iran in this field and to a new law which was at that moment before the Iranian Parliament for enactment.

The new Bill became law by an Act of Parliament dated 22 June 1959. It is now in force, under the auspices of the new administration, which I have already briefly described. This new law, in the confident opinion of the Government of Iran, represents a further important step forward in the struggle against the illicit traffic in narcotics in Iran. It is the purpose of the present article briefly to analyse and explain its more important provisions. In general, I shall confine myself, in the interests of clarity and brevity, to the articles of the law which introduce an improvement or a new provision.

In the first place, while the 1955 law dealt with opium only, experience has indicated that it is not advisable to disassociate opium from other narcotics in legislation. The high price and scarcity of opium which followed from the operation of the old law led addicts to look for other drugs; also the use of opium as a raw material for the manufacture of heroin was detected. The new law, therefore, covers both opium and other drugs. It also deals with the control of drugs used pharmaceutically, as well as with the prohibition of drugs which are habit-forming. The Ministry of Health is given the power to state what drugs will come under the purview of the Act as prohibited drugs, or as drugs liable to medical control at any time. In pursuance of this power, orders have already been issued placing over 60 drugs under the controls envisaged by the Act, in accordance with the principles laid down and the views expressed in the United Nations. Secondly, and following logically from what has been indicated already, the over-all responsibility for handling the drug traffic, legitimate as well as illicit, is laid upon the Ministry of Health, with the aid and co-operation of the other ministries which exercise administrative or executive functions that touch upon the operation of the Act, especially in relation to the illicit traffic. Thus, it is now enacted that the Ministry of Health shall control the import of drugs needed for legal purposes through a state monopoly, and that such imports shall be in the phrase sanctioned by the approval of the United Nations: for medical and scientific purposes only. In regard to the illicit traffic, regulations may be issued by the Ministry of Health governing the enforcement of the law, which is co-ordinated for practical purposes by the new general administration.2

2 Ibid.

The third, and perhaps the most important part of the new law, which takes up the greater part of the Act, is the re-definition of offences, the strengthening of penal provisions, and a clear statement of the legal position as to the confiscation of vehicles and material used in the illicit traffic. What I may call general offences are manufacture, preparation, import, sale or offering for sale of narcotics as defined in the Act. Penalties range from 5 to 15 years' imprisonment with fine for a first offence, to life imprisonment for repeated offences. Judges have discretion in relation to the sentences which they may impose under the maximum sentence allowed by the Act for an offence. But the death penalty is provided where the repeated offence is the illegal manufacture or the illegal import of narcotics.

The provisions which deal with the illegal cultivation of the opium poppy have been remodelled from those which were laid down in the 1955 law; they have been clarified and strengthened. An offence may involve imprisonment of up to 15 years with a fine amounting to 100,000 rials 3 per hectare of land used in illicit cultivation, and the destruction of the plantation. A distinction is drawn between cultivation under order of a landlord, for instance, and cultivation by the landlord. In the first case, the minimum punishment provided by the law will be inflicted on the cultivator, whereas in the second case the maximum penalty will be inflicted on the person under whose order the cultivation took place. Life imprisonment is provided for repeated offences. A government officer who fails to report cultivation or fails to take action on a report of illicit cultivation is liable to discharge from service and to 3 years' imprisonment. Keeping or concealing the seeds or capsules of the opium poppy involve imprisonment for from 2 months to 3 years.

Apart from what I have called general penal provisions, there are important special penal provisions, dealing with offences that were omitted from or not clearly defined in the old law. Thus, the using of premises for the consumption of narcotics is an offence punishable by a fine of up to 100,000 rials and 10 years' solitary confinement. It is also now an offence to profit from the running of such premises, while an employee in such a place is liable to 2 years' imprisonment. It is now an offence, again, to give facilities for the operation of such premises. On conviction of the owner, lessor or financier, the premises will be closed. Again, the possession, concealment or transportation of drugs are offences involving sentences of up to 3 years' imprisonment, or fine. If the quantity involved is over 50 g of opium or 1 g of any other narcotic, a court may impose up to 10 years' solitary confinement. Finally, it is an offence involving a punishment which may extend to 3 years' imprisonment to inject narcotics without medical prescription. If the drug be morphine or heroin, the maximum penalties provided in the Act can be imposed.

3 About U.S. $1,400.

An important provision is the article under winch priority of application is granted to this Act where its provisions clash with those of any other law. Adulterated drugs, a category which includes most drugs found in the illicit traffic in Iran, are treated as if they were pure for the purpose of the imposition of penalties. Informers, on whom most enforcement work depends, are closely connected with traffickers; in the eyes of the law, they are criminals; but it is possible to use them to combat the important criminal. Their liability to penalties for their own breaches of the law is therefore reduced. Seized vehicles become the property of the Ministry of Health, while seized drugs and material are placed at the disposal of the Narcotics Control Administration.

Operations under the Act are to be financed under a budget which will be subject to the approval of the Finance Ministry. But it is expected that there will be a continuing income to the Government from fines and from the disposal of seized material. This money is to be the basis of a special fund - after placing sufficient money on one side to pay rewards to the officers who have been instrumental in the discovery of offences - which will be used for the maintenance of a hospital, the cure of addicts, and the provision of material for the campaign against narcotics - an unusual example of poetic justice, in this case embodied in a legal enactment!

If it is found that a person adjudged to be guilty of an offence under the Act is, in fact, a drug addict, he is to be placed in hospital for treatment. The period spent in hospital will count as part of the sentence imposed on him. If he is cured of his addiction he may be released. There is an amnesty of one year covering persons who volunteer for hospital treatment in order to be cured of their addiction. The number of beds in the Teheran hospital has been increased from 50 to 100. The law, therefore, now contains both a statutory power to insist on the treatment of an addict who has been an accused before a court, and also an invitation to persons who have not been before a court but who wish to undergo a cure, to go to hospital without incurring the penalty provided by law for their offence of using a prohibited drag. It remains to be seen whether the facilities available and the funds which can be found to maintain them will suffice to meet the needs of the patients who may be expected to be treated at government hospitals under these provisions of the law. The rehabilitation of the addict is a cardinal point in the policy of the Government of Iran. It may not be possible to do all that is necessary in this field without aid from external sources.

Punishment is provided for officials of the Government appointed to exercise powers under this Act who fail to carry out their duties. They are liable to dismissal, and to the punishment provided for the offence with which they failed to deal. Employees of the Government or of public bodies who are found to be addicted to drugs are liable to dismissal or to be suspended from duty until they give up the habit. Lastly, the law protects the innocent citizen against the slanderous imputa- tion that he is an addict or concerned with the sale of narcotics. If any such accusation is made in the press, and it cannot be proved on challenge, the person who is responsible for the publication of the slanderous report is liable to imprisonment for from 6 months to 1 year.

Strong penal provisions are useless unless there are courts which uphold the law vigorously and effectively. In view of the success of the special court for opium offences which has now operated in Teheran for some months, it was considered whether or not the system of special courts should be extended. It was felt, however, that the necessary effect could be produced by a provision in the law that priority must be given by the courts to narcotics cases in arranging their calendars of hearings. This provision is combined with a further stipulation that bail is not to be allowed in such cases; the accused are to be detained in custody till the hearing of the case.

The passing of so stringent a piece of legislation a little less than 4 years after the enactment of the law prohibiting the cultivation of the opium poppy and the use of opium represents an earnest of the determination of the Iranian Government to maintain a full, continuing pressure on traffickers and addiction in the struggle against narcotics. It embodies the results of a close study by the officers of the Government of Iran and its advisers of the working of the old laws, of the systems of control which exist in other countries, and of international legislation in this field. Thorough consideration of all aspects of the Bill and of the problems with which it is designed to cope took place in Parliament. This new law is an important development in the struggle against a social evil in which all good citizens both of a nation and of the international community are called on to play their part. It represents in itself one of the most complete, up-to-date acts of social legislation passed by any national government in this century. It does not neglect provision for an administration and for finance to carry out its provisions. It is therefore not merely idealistic; it is a practical down-to-earth legislative act. Iran awaits the outcome with confidence, fully realizing that the illicit traffic, fiercely attacked in one direction, will endeavour to break out in another. But the new law arms the Iranian administration with powers which will enable it to continue the struggle successfully, provided the full co-operation of her neighbours is assured. This co-operation is being actively sought and is promised; with it, even greater successes may be recorded than in the past.

The success of Iran's present effort in the country is exemplified by a series of raids on illicit laboratories, hide-outs and traffickers, which were reported in the Teheran press on 13 October 1959. As a result of these raids, 3 illicit laboratories for the manufacture of morphine and heroin were seized, and their owners arrested. In all, 81 traffickers were arrested, including the two most notorious opium smugglers in Iran, and 100 kg of opium and 6 kg of morphine and heroin were seized. One of the arrested smugglers had been carrying morphine and heroin on the Beyrouth- Baghdad- Teheran air route for some time. This is the heaviest blow struck at the illicit traffic in this region for years. It is the result of an investigation that bad continued for several months, while the raid were timed and carried out with a promptitude and efficiency that speak well for the officers and staff who were responsible for them.

In the international field, a protocol was negotiated with the Turkish Government during September 1959 which will result in far closer control over the illicit traffic in opium on the border between the two countries than had existed in the past. This is an apt reward for co-operation between two neighbour- ing countries which, it is hoped, will be followed generally. The need is emphasized by the discovery of smuggling of drugs by air into Iran alluded to in the previous paragraph. The recognition of the need is underlined both by these successful Turkish-Iranian negotiations, and also by the visit to Teheran in October 1959 of the United Nations Mission, which sought means of improving and extending such co-operation.


1 See Bulletin on Narcotics, vol. XI No. 1.