Pubdate: Sun, 30 Mar 2014
Source: Times, The (Malta)
Copyright: 2014 Allied Newspapers Limited
Author: Ivan Martin


The decriminalisation of drugs for personal use is inevitable if 
Malta is to continue following the UN's lead, an expert advising 
Parliament has told The Sunday Times of Malta. "The United Nations 
has started to shift towards the decriminalisation of drugs and Malta 
has always followed the UN's position on this issue," former director 
of the National Forensic Lab Mario Mifsud said.

Dr Mifsud said Maltese lawmakers were already moving towards a 
decriminalisation policy but would eventually be forced to make a 
choice by the international community. The UN has not yet taken an 
official stand on the issue but Dr Mifsud said it appeared to be 
moving towards a softer legal stance on the issue after a number of 
countries decriminalised drug use. The use of cannabis for personal 
use has been decriminalised in 16 US states, the most recent one 
being Colorado, and Washington state is expected to follow suit this 
year. Uruguay also recently decriminalised the drug.

A pharmacologist specialised in illicit drugs, Dr Mifsud has been 
advising Parliament's Social Affairs Committee on the state of 
Malta's drug laws. Last week he urged MPs to take a decision on the 
matter before reviewing the local legislation.

"MPs need to decide whether the country should continue pursuing the 
prohibition of drugs or not before any review on the state of drug 
laws begins. "This requires a lengthy examination and must be done 
properly," he said, adding not enough research was being carried out 
on the local drug scene. Justice Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici 
is currently drafting the first review of the country's drug laws 
with a White Paper expected to be tabled before the summer 
parliamentary recess.

The review will see first time offenders - found in possession of 
drugs for personal use - avoid being processed through the criminal 
courts. Instead, they will stand before a non-judicial body as part 
of the government's Arrest Referral Scheme.

Dr Mifsud said the criminal prosecution of drug users had failed. 
"The abuse of drugs is an illness and requires treatment. Criminal 
proceedings do not help the situation. The shift towards treatment 
has been a long time coming," he said, adding the war on drugs had 
not produced the necessary results. In 2012, the government had spent 
euro5.4 million in the fight against drugs.
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