Pubdate: Mon, 19 May 2014
Source: Independent (Malta)
Copyright: 2014, Standard Publications Ltd
Author: Kevin Schembri Orland


While the government has repeatedly stated that it is considering 
some sort of drug decriminalisation, what it is not saying is which 
drugs it intends to address in the legislation it is drafting.

Contacted this week, Minister for Justice Owen Bonnici would not be 
drawn into the matter of whether the government intends 
decriminalising drugs across the board or whether it is considering 
only certain drugs for its decriminalised list.

In fact, all Dr Bonnici had to say on the matter was, "The relative 
White Paper will be issued in due course."

Drug possession not marijuana possession

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has argued that the law will centre on 
the decriminalisation of drug possession in certain circumstances. 
The key words here are drug possession, and not the possession of 
marijuana, which is considered to be a soft drug in many countries. 
As such, the Prime Minister implied that people will be able to carry 
small quantities of several, if not all, drugs.

Moreover, by the time this article went to print, the government had 
not yet clarified whether the Prime Minister was referring to 
depenalisation or decriminalisation, as each have different 
connotations. Depenalisation suggests that first time offences for 
possessing drugs in small quantities would no longer result in a 
prison term. But decriminalisation, the word used by Dr Muscat in his 
original announcement, refers to the likelihood that drug users would 
not be taken to court, which would, as such, prevent the possibility 
of forced rehabilitation.

Caritas Malta is of the opinion that decriminalisation will not work 
and would rather see the implementation of depenalisation. When asked 
whether or not they had been contacted by the government in order to 
have their views on the topic, this newspaper was told that Caritas 
Director Victor Grech did in fact have an opportunity to express his 
views to the government.

Discretion for judges

Criminal lawyer Giannella de Marco argued that "the presiding judge 
should be allowed discretion as s/he would have the feel of the case 
and the circumstances. This is the change that I would like to see in the law."

Another key question left unanswered regards those already in court 
on possession charges and those currently serving a prison sentence. 
Will these people be pardoned should the white paper become law?

This newspaper has submitted several questions to the Office of the 
Prime Minister which so far have remained unanswered. One of the 
questions posed regards the possibility of drug classifications, 
which are currently non-existent in Malta. If only certain drugs are 
decriminalised, a classification system would need to be introduced.

When contacted, the Police Department declined to give any opinion on 
the topic.

Earlier this week, an article entitled "Jailing drug users is 
barbaric" in our sister daily newspaper, people on the ground, 
including a pro-drug activist, a criminal lawyer and Caritas Malta, 
shared their thoughts. In this article, the diverse and sometimes 
surprising opinions of individuals were brought to light. The main 
gist of the story is that nobody knows what this white paper will contain.

The government has announced a bill which could potentially change 
the law that permits the jailing of persons for possession, albeit a 
law which, according to the PN home affairs spokesman Jason 
Azzopardi, is not always enforced.

Dr Azzopardi argued that the Nationalist Party, when in government, 
had tabled a bill which would have provided support for first time 
offenders by recognised organisations, rather than enforcing 
penalisation. This bill had been scrapped following the forced 
resignation of then Minister for Justice Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici. Dr 
Azzopardi confirmed that should the Labour government recognise these 
principles, the PN would support and welcome this initiative.
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