Pubdate: Sat, 27 Jul 2013
Source: Independent (Malta)
Copyright: 2013, Standard Publications Ltd


Drug users should not be treated as criminals. It was Guido de Marco,
former President, who first brought the issue to the public when
speaking during a Sedqa activity some years ago. People remember Guido
for many things, but this was one of his most noble speeches. At a
time when drug addicts were ostracised from society (not that long
ago), Prof. de Marco challenged the view of society at the time and
encouraged people and the institutions to change their mentality and
look at addicts as people that needed help and support.

At the time, personal drug use was heavily punished by the courts and
there was zero tolerance by the police. In 1998, a Swiss woman was
jailed for having brought a small bit of cannabis to Malta to smoke on
her holidays. At the time, passing a joint to someone was regarded as
drug trafficking. Subsequently, the laws were amended. But drug
addicts are still, even today, being jailed and shunned by society.

Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday presented a copy of its drug policy
to the Commission for Law Reform and proposed that personal drug use
be decriminalised. It is Pandora's Box. But, it is also clear that
something must be done about the current state of affairs. Drug users
live in a world where they are damned if they do, and damned if they
don't. There have been cases where a person might have abused drugs
four or five years ago and since turned their lives around. Some have
found employment and some have raised families. Yet when their case
gets to court, they can be jailed. In jail, they are subjected to drug
use and bad influences around them. Let us not pretend. It happens,
just as it happens everywhere else in the world.

Giovanni Bonello, a former judge of the European Court of Human
Rights, said the Commission would "like to see the personal use of
drugs to be treated as a social problem and not a judicial issue. He
said an individual in possession of drugs for personal use should be
seen as a victim and as someone who needed help, not a criminal.

However, he also said that laws also needed to ensure that drug
peddlers and large-scale traffickers would not benefit in any way. We
could not agree more. Part of the problem is that today, drugs are
very readily available. People are using them for recreation and
various reports this year have shown that kids as young as 13 and 14
are dabbling in cocaine and ecstasy. Drug use is no longer limited to
the areas of Malta which we define as being 'social problem areas'. It
is no longer about heroin and cannabis. There are multitudes of drugs
out there. Cocaine, ecstasy, the recent Mephedrone fad, heroin,
cannabis and all sorts of other manufactured drugs. Before we can make
any progress at all, this fact must be recognised.

There are some very successful drug rehabilitation programmes in
Malta. But as any addict will tell you, when they fall, they fall
hard. Surely, the solution is not to lock them up and throw away the
key, giving up on them entirely. They deserve all the help they can
get. It is only through education and encouraging young people to live
an active and fulfilling life, that we can beat the drug problem.

There is one caveat, however. The issue of crimes committed to feed a
habit also needs to be addressed. We cannot go from one extreme to
another and excuse fraud, theft or muggings, because someone has a
habit to feed. It is, as the judge put it, a social problem - not a
judicial issue.
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