Security officials want to stiffen penalties for public drug use

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo Two of the young drug-trafficking suspects await transportation in San Diego de Tres Rios

As schools begin instruction today, security officials are promising rigid enforcement of drug laws in educational areas. Meanwhile, they are looking to beef up the anti-drug law for people caught in public places children frequent.

Celso Gamboa, a vice minister of security, said in a press conference Tuesday that introducing drugs into an educational area is punishable by up to eight years in prison. Gamboa said the ministry is attempting to expand the law to include prison time for those caught in other public areas selling, consuming or possessing drugs.

The public areas would include parks, stadiums, recreation areas, among others. He said children frequent these areas, and to combat drug use the government can not only focus on schools. He said a draft of the proposal will be sent to the legislature.

The goals of the ministry may be at odds with the judiciary where small amounts of drugs have not been a priority. The country’s chief prosecutor announced several months ago his agency would not be prosecuting those arrested with drugs for personal consumption. It is common for people to be seen in public in San José smoking marijuana or selling other types of drugs.

Also no plan was introduced by the ministry as to where a large influx of prison inmates would be housed. It was recently reported that the country’s major prisons were overpopulated, as much as 50 percent in one central prison.

In preparation for the start of classes, the Fuerza Pública has dispatched 3,300 police to focus on school and after-school safety in what officials classified as some of the more vulnerable areas. The operation is called Clase Seguro and will last for the 200 days of the school term. Last year the canine drug unit of the Fuerza Pública visited 123 different education centers in the country.

The ministry officials at the press conference also promoted preventative measures to combat drug use, such as the D.A.R.E. program used in the United States. The ministry reported 82,000 children participated in that program in 2011, and 62,000 were in another anti-drug educational program called Pinta Seguro, targeted at younger students and focusing on security and personal safety themes.

In an enforcement action, the Policia de Control de Drogas detained Monday six suspects. Two are minors. They are accused of selling drugs in San Diego de Tres Rios. Police had 15 complaints on the group of suspected drug dealers through their anonymous phone hotline, they said. Agents arrested the suspects with 54 doses of crack and 20 doses of marijuana and then placed calls to their parents to inform them as to what had happened to their children, a report said. One suspect is 17, another is 16 and two are 18, one is 19 and the other is 20, the anti-drug police reported.

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