Classifying between hard and soft drugs should be shunned – Fenech Adami

Justice minister Owen Bonnici says drug users must no longer be treated as criminals, but as victims; OASI Foundation Director says counselling should be made mandatory for drug users. 

Fresh from launching the white paper on drug decriminalisation, justice minister Owen Bonnici has insisted that this law should act as a deterrent to drugs, and not as an encouragement to drug consumption.
Fresh from launching the white paper on drug decriminalisation, justice minister Owen Bonnici has insisted that this law should act as a deterrent to drugs, and not as an encouragement to drug consumption.

With the newly-launched white paper on drug decriminalisation proposing that first time users will no longer face criminal charges, justice minister Owen Bonnici and PN Deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami were equally as vocal towards helping the “victims burdened by drugs,” with the latter however, insisting that no distinction should be made between cannabis and non-cannabis users.

Launched yesterday, the white paper on drug decriminalisation envisages that instead of being charged in court, first time drug users would appear before a justice commissioner who in turn can either issue a warning and/or fine or if deemed necessary, refer to the case to a social board made up of experts and police officers.

The law however, makes a distinction between cannabis users and non-cannabis users. Those caught in possession of cannabis – perceived by many as being a “soft” drug – would instead be exempted from appearing before the social board, irrespective of how many times they are caught in possession of drugs for personal use. Nevertheless, the justice commissioner will be given complete discretion to make exceptions and refer repeat offenders to the social board.

Hosted on TVM’s Reporter, Fenech Adami underlined that any form of classification between “soft” and “hard” drugs would be unwise as it would encourage the consumption of “inferior” drugs.

“The white paper should be guided by the common good rather than common sense,” Fenech Adami said in a jibe at justice minister Owen Bonnici.

“Classifying between hard and soft drugs would be unwise as it would invariably justify or encourage the consumption of the other so called inferior drug. Nevertheless, drugs will remain an intrinsic wrong, and the government as well as society in general has the duty to help drug victims.”

While acknowledging the criticism to the white paper on drug decriminalisation– most notably a Eurobaromoter survey showing only 14% of the Maltese supporting the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use – justice minister Owen Bonnici was adamant that this criticism does not emanate from the people’s response to the proposed reforms, but from their general disagreement toany type of drug reform.

Bonnici, has insisted that the white paper is intended to give the country "a clear direction, strengthen help offered to drug users and clamp down on drug trafficking."

"There is a misconception that the white paper is intent or will encourage drug use. However, the laws are intended on acting as a deterrent to drugs and to helping drug victims. Up until today, drug users have been sidelined as criminals, but this new law would instead recognise them as victims who are in need of help rather than punishment."

"We could have easily avoided this white paper, but the fact of the matter is that those drug users who are intent on reforming are being met by the law's metal fist. The new law introduces the element of help, which until today has been lacking."

Moreover, Bonnici argued that the decriminalisation of drugs would seek to strike a balance between helping the victims and prevent drug consumption. 

On his part, Gozo’s OASI Foundation Director Fr Manuel Cordina, recommended that all drug users found in possession of drugs – even recreational drug users – should go to counselling, and also explained that it would be unwise to classify between hard and soft drugs out of fear that people would be encouraged into consuming the latter. 

The white paper follows the recommendation by the justice reform commission, headed by retired Judge Giovanni Bonello, which had proposed that simple possession should no longer be considered as a crime but rather a social problem.

The proposal has received a mixed reaction and some experts have expressed concern at the possible repercussions, including increased drug use. So far, the Nationalist Party has not committed itself fully on the law, with Beppe Fenech Adami insisting that the party’s cautious approach is not intent on scoring political points.

Nevertheless, the party has said that it would support a legislative effort not to criminalise drug users or those caught in possession of drugs for their personal use.

The Green Party on the other hand has consistently called for decriminalisation and last month it presented the party position on the reform in drug policy to Bonnici.

AD Chairperson Arnold Cassola said "We need to move towards a more humane policy towards drug use and addiction. Not only because it’s morally the right thing to do but also because it is more successful."

More in Reporter