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AD dubs arrest referral ‘a pre-electoral gimmick’

Green party says arrest referral for first-time drug offenders is token gesture that does not address system’s shortcomings.

Matthew Vella
12 July 2012, 12:00am
AD reiterated its call for the decriminalization of drugs for personal use.
Alternattiva Demokratika has come out against the proposed arrest referral system on drugs, claiming the move is a pre-electoral gimmick "characterised by populism and moral panic rather than sensible policy."

AD reiterated its call for the decriminalization of drugs for personal use. "We are sceptical about the proposed arrest referral system since we believe it is just an electoral gimmick and will not bring about any effective changes in the way the legal system deals with the drug problem and with drug users," Angele Deguara, AD spokesperson on social policy and civil rights, said.

"AD believes that there cannot be one policy which fits all since drug use and abuse is a complex phenomenenon and we cannot lump together all drug users as criminals, victims or traffickers.  We believe that there should be a classification between soft and hard drugs depending on their psychological, physical and social effects."

Deguara said there should be a difference between cultivation of marijuana for personal use and cultivation for trafficking and between sharing and trafficking of drugs.  "There should be a rethinking of the policy whereby the Attorney General's office arbitrarily decides whether drug-related cases should be dealt with by the magistrates' courts or by a criminal court presided by a judge, with significant consequences in the sentences meted out even in not very different cases."

Under the ARS, offenders will retain a clean criminal record but they will have to abide by the conditions handed down to them by the extra judicial body. Police charges will not be continued, but the offender will have to appear before the EJB.

Under the ARS, the arrestee will appear before the EJB upon notification by the police and will have to admit to the facts of the case if he wishes that the proceedings continue before the EJB. Otherwise the case shall be referred back to the police to initiate proceedings before the court.

The EJB will then consult with the arrest referral officer and the police for any information and assistance it may require and shall make use of services by private bodies and agencies in the field of substance abuse.

Such measures will include brief crisis intervention, motivational interviewing and drug counseling, community service, supervision, leisure education, or obligation to provide a clean urine for a stipulated number of months.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, said: "Unfortunately, moral panic and populism have taken over in drugs policy, where all drug users are seen as criminals or in need of therapy. While AD commends help given by the state to drug addicts with serious problems, AD also asserts that other drug users such as users of soft drugs for recreational purposes should not be portrayed in this way. Decriminalization of drugs for personal use will ensure that drug users and drug victims do not end up treated as criminals."

The National Youth Policy calls for diversionary tactics in relation to young people. In 2010 of all arrests made for possession, 275 (85%) were between the ages of 15 and 34, 46 of these were aged 30-34 (17% of the 275).

The number of pending drug offences before the Magistrate's Court continues to increase with the effect of weighting down on the effective delivery of justice. In 1999 the number of pending drug cases for possession stood at 70. This has gradually increased to 655 as of the 31 July, in 2011.

Matthew Vella

After graduating in anthropology he joined MaltaToday...
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