Caritas Malta calls for caution amidst drug justice reform

Caritas reacts to White Paper on Malta’s drug laws

Caritas Malta has voiced its stance on the recently proposed White Paper aimed at reforming Malta’s drug laws.

Last month, the government published a set of reforms to Malta’s drug laws for public consultation. The proposals include strengthening the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, but also controversially includes considerable increases in the maximum amounts of drugs in a person’s possession that can be considered as being for personal use before the drug court’s jurisdiction is exceeded.

This translates to 500 ecstasy pills, up from the current 300; up to 200 grams of heroin or cocaine instead of the current 100, and 500 grams of cannabis rather than 300 grams as the law currently stands.

In its response to the public consultation on the laws,  Caritas Malta conveyed the sentiments and opinions of approximately 45 residents undergoing rehabilitation programs, clients using Caritas services, and staff members engaged in rehabilitation and prevention efforts.

While Caritas Malta acknowledged the potential benefits of the White Paper's proposals in enhancing rehabilitation efforts and fostering social justice, it raised serious concerns regarding the suggested thresholds for eligibility before the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board.

Caritas Malta commended several aspects of the White Paper, including proposals to bolster the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, provide transparency in the decision-making process, and extend mercy to drug addicts apprehended for simple possession, potentially leading to trial in criminal courts without a jury. These measures, if implemented, could fortify the rehabilitation laws enacted in 2015.

However, Caritas Malta highlighted significant reservations regarding the proposed increments in eligibility thresholds. The organisation warns of potential inadvertent consequences, including facilitating drug trafficking in larger quantities and increasing drug use.

In response to these concerns, Caritas Malta proposed alternative measures, including:

  • Retaining current thresholds as indicative rather than prescriptive, allowing flexibility in cases closely approaching established limits.
  • Reviewing thresholds for specific substances, such as ecstasy, to ensure they align with practical considerations.
  • Advocating for stricter enforcement against hashish trafficking amidst evolving legislation around cannabis use.
  • Introducing mechanisms to freeze proceedings or postpone sentencing for individuals demonstrating evidence of rehabilitation.
  • Granting magistrates discretion to forego mandatory prison sentences in favor of rehabilitation-focused alternatives.

Caritas Malta acknowledged the potential of the White Paper to enact meaningful reform in the realm of drug justice. However, it urged policymakers to heed its concerns and consider amendments to mitigate unintended consequences.

Caritas Malta’s statement was endorsed by: Fondazzjoni OASI, Catholic Schools Association, CCF Chaplaincy, Malta Catholic Youth Network (MCYN), Millenium Chapel, Paolo Freire Institute, Fondazzjoni Suret il-Bniedem, Soup Kitchen OFM Valletta, Fondazzjoni St Jeanne Antide, Fondazzjoni Youth Alive, St Vincent De Paule Society, Church Homes for the Elderly, Mater Dei Hospital and SAMOC Chaplaincy.