Pubdate: Sun, 13 Jul 2014
Source: Independent (Malta)
Copyright: 2014, Standard Publications Ltd
Author: Alison Bezzina
Page: 20


Luckily, most of us don't do drugs. Unfortunately this makes us think 
that drug legislation has nothing to do with us. As a result very few 
seem to be concerned with what is being proposed in the new Drug Law 
reform. The truth is however, that we should all be very concerned 
about drug-related laws because somehow or another they will, and do, 
affect all of us - from users, to family members, from the state of 
our health systems, to the state of our justice system, from higher 
taxes to higher insurance premiums as a result of drug-related 
crimes; like it or not, in one way or another, we're all affected.

I'm certainly not an expert in the field and my opinion is usually 
based on that of real experts, like Caritas. Let's face it they work 
with drug users and abusers every single day and they face drug 
problems all the time, so compared to my little exposure in all this, 
their opinion should be taken by far more seriously. Having said 
that, it doesn't take an expert to realise that Malta's drug laws are 
among the harshest in Europe - some drug related crimes carry life 
sentences and the law makes no distinction between hard and soft 
drugs. So yes, even a non-expert like me can see that a change is 
definitely necessary; the question is 'what sort of change?'

Words have been hurled around for decades. From 'decriminalisation' 
to 'legalisation', from 'penalisation' to 'rehabilitation.' As a 
result, there's much confusion surrounding what is really being 
proposed this time around.

Let's make one thing clear - presently no political party or official 
entity in Malta has proposed legalisation - making drugs legal. What 
the Government and its supporters are proposing is the 
decriminalisation  the reduction of penalties related to particular 
drug related offences/crimes. Alternattiva Demokratika has been 
harping on about this for the past 20 years and finally the 
Government seems to be taking heed.

Legalisation and decriminalisation are two VERY different things. 
Here are 10 ways how they differ and arguments for each:


1.  Decriminalisation does not make currently illegal drugs, legal.

2.  Decriminalisation does not make it legal to be in possession of 
illegal drugs.

3.  Decriminalisation makes the possession of some drugs, when found 
in certain quantities, that indicate personal use, an administrative 
offence instead of a criminal one.

4.  This means that the punishment will not involve a jail term. In 
essence, it reduces certain criminal offences to civil penalties, like fines.

5.  This does not apply to drug traffickers for whom criminal 
penalties (including jail terms) will still apply.

6.  Many countries around the world have decriminalised certain drugs 
when found in certain quantities and, the drug situation in those 
countries did not get any worse.

7.  Portugal for example, decriminalised the possession of all drugs 
in 2001 and there hasn't been any adverse affect on drug usage rates. 
There has been however a dramatic decrease in drug-related health 
issues, including sexually-transmitted diseases and deaths from overdoses.

8.  Decriminalisation can either happen officially as has happened in 
Portugal and is being proposed for Malta, or unofficially, as happens 
in the Netherlands where drugs remain illegal but the selling of 
cannabis up to 5g per customer is not enforced in certain areas (coffee shops).

9.  Decriminalisation shifts the focus on the drug users rather than 
the suppliers by providing a more humane and sensible response to 
their drug use.

10. Decriminalisation removes the fear factor and therefore 
encourages education or treatment.

Legalisation (What is NOT being proposed)

1.  Legalisation would make certain currently-illegal drugs, legal, 
on the same lines of cigarettes and alcohol.

2.  The only politician in Malta who has ever suggested this in the 
past was then Prime Minister Dr. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici.

3.  Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalise the 
production, distribution, sale and consumption of cannabis.

4.  Colorado and Washington (in the US) followed suit this year.

5.  One of the main examples used in favour of legalisation is that 
of the US alcohol prohibition - when alcohol was prohibited in the US 
between 1920 and 1933, there was a significant rise in criminal 
activity, cases of alcohol poisoning increased dramatically, and 
organised crime took control of the distribution of alcohol.

6.  Another argument is that legalising drugs would provide 
governments with a source of revenue, as recreational drug sales 
would be heavily taxed in the same way as cigarettes and alcohol.

7.  The authorities would also be able to control production, thus 
making recreational drugs safer.

8.  It is also argued that once legalised, drug-related crime would 
plummet and the problem of abuse would shift from the justice system 
and the police, to the health system and rehabilitation.

9.  Of course the strongest argument against legalisation is the risk 
of significant increases in drug use and abuse.

10. And finally people fear that legalising something tends to give 
out the 'wrong' message, by making it look 'ok.'

Unfortunately, there's no research on legalisation yet and many 
politicians are even reluctant to proceed with decriminalisation let 
alone legalisation. This is likely due to politicians not being up to 
speed with the differences highlighted above or because 
decriminalisation is not yet a popular choice.

Whatever we end up doing however, discussing the issue openly and 
publically is an important step that cannot be overlooked. Firstly we 
need to open up the discussion by being clear about the terms that 
are being proposed, then, we need to stop politicizing every issue 
and agree that whilst everything carries its own risks and benefits, 
this drug law reform needs to happen sooner rather than later.

The 25-page document is expected to be tabled in Parliament in 
October, so let's get talking.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom