[VIDEO] Demystifying decriminalisation and drug addiction | Kevin Busuttil

'There is no magic formula to help a drug addict out of his dependency but emotional stability is important'

Kevin Busuttil
Kevin Busuttil
Decriminalisation • what does a recovering drug addict think?

Drug addicts and recovering addicts are calling for involvement in the national debate on the decriminalisation of drugs, with a purposely set up organisation, A Voice for Drug Addicts (AVFDA), aiming to put drug addicts’ experiences at the centre of the debate.

One of the organisation’s mantras says “there is no permanent solution for progressive problems,” and an AVFDA spokesperson, Kevin Busuttil, himself a recovering drug addict, said “if you listen to us you could better understand what addiction is and what kind of help is required”.

Backing the proposals put forward in the recently launched White Paper, which proposes that persons caught in possession of drugs for personal use will no longer face criminal proceedings, Busuttil insisted “we are not criminals, we need help.”

And for this reason, Busuttil together with a number of other recovering addicts, former drug addicts and experts decided to create AVFDA.

Under the proposed law on drug decriminalisation, drug users will no longer face a court sentence but instead appear in front of a justice commissioner and, if deemed necessary, a social board of experts.

An exception for cannabis users is being proposed, with the white paper recommending that cannabis users, including repeat offenders, only appear in front of the commissioner.

In an interview with MaltaToday, Busuttil recounted his gruelling experiences with an infectious tranquillity and admitted that his addiction was caused by his inability to deal with typical teenage troubles.

“I had a normal upbringing, like anyone else. When I reached my teenage years I stumbled upon this void, however I did not have the necessary skills to deal with it and like many others I experimented with drugs.”

However, unlike others, it took him 25 years to realise that he had a problem and seek help.

Busuttil describes himself as a recovering addict, and asked to define a drug addict, his definition was “somebody looking for the right thing in the wrong place.”

“It took me six years to get out of it and I’ve now been clean for a year,” he added.

Busuttil believes that there is no magic formula to help a drug addict out of his dependency, however drawing on his experiences, Busuttil said that emotional stability plays an important role.

Treatment and after-care is central to AVFDA and Busuttil said that there is no one-size-fits-all cure, which highlights the need for drug addicts to share their views and experiences.

This point was reiterated by AVFDA co-founder Vicki Scicluna, who underlined the need to give drug addicts a voice in society and convey a message that they can recover.

She urged addicts and recovering addicts to contact AVFDA as the organisation is preparing a detailed paper in reaction to the White Paper.

Under the proposed law, users caught in simple possession for the first time would no longer be referred to the criminal court but to a justice commissioner who can either issue a warning and/or fine or refer the case to a board of social experts, police officers and retired members of the judiciary.

Persons caught for the second time within three years from the first time would be automatically referred to the social board, which decides what action is necessary, including sending persons to rehabilitation programmes.

Scicluna explained that while supporting decriminalisation, the NGO disagrees with a number of proposals included in the White Paper.

Under the proposed law, first time offenders will appear in front of a commissioner who will decide whether the individuals caught in possession of drugs for personal use should appear in front of the expert board.

But Scicluna said that AVFDA was proposing that all first-time offenders, including persons caught in possession of marijuana, should appear in front of the board.

“Not all persons caught for the first time in possession of drugs are teenagers who are social users, they will also include persons who have been using drugs for a long time.”

She also pointed out that the organisation is against the distinction being made between marijuana and other drugs, because “there are no soft and hard drugs, but just drugs. Cannabis should not be treated differently, it can also have long-term psychotic effects”.

Scicluna also argued that the three-year window in which persons committing a second offence appear in front of the commissioner should be reduced to one year. 

AVFDA is also calling for the introduction of probation orders for multiple offenders, ensuring that they receive the necessary treatment.

Moreover, recovering or former drug addicts who are certified by the expert board as having completely reintegrated in society should not face jail time, Scicluna said, but if found guilty of any pending cases the courts should order community service. 

AVFDA also holds that trafficker-users should be treated differently than traffickers, because persons who finance their own habit by selling drugs need treatment and not jail terms.

AVFDA can be contacted at [email protected] or on facebook.com/AVFDA