Drug law reform is ‘broader than past attempts’
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Drug law reform is ‘broader than past attempts’

Political turmoil paused reform

The proposed drug law reform is not the first of its kind but will be “significantly broader” than its failed predecessors, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici told Times of Malta yesterday.

Expected to be tabled in Parliament before the summer recess, the review appears to be edging towards the outright decriminalisation of simple drug possession.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had announced the government’s intention to move towards a decriminalisation policy during a press conference last week.

“The system of sending people to prison for drug possession is failing our youths,” he had said.

The announcement had raised eyebrows as it seemed not to tally with the government’s previous position on the matter.

Before the press conference, the government had only hinted at the easing of penalties for first-time offenders.

Details on the reform remain sketchy and questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister have not been answered.

This whirlwind reform, however, is not the first time Parliament has toyed with the idea of decriminalising drug use.

A Bill tabled back in 2011 had included a number of measures similar to those proposed by the current administration.

The reform, however, was later put on the back burner by the PN administration when then home affairs minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici stepped down mid-legislature after rebel PN MP Franco Debono backed the then Labour Opposition on a vote of no confidence.

Known as the Various Laws Bill, the proposal had sought to de-penalise the first-time offence of personal drug use.

Asked whether the government intended following on the parameters of this Bill, Dr Bonnici told Times of Malta that this would not have been as far reaching as the reform now being proposed by the government.

However, he would not elaborate.

The previous proposal had sought to give discretionary powers to the Attorney General when it came to dealing with first-time offenders found in possession of drugs for personal use.

There were also suggestions for the court to recommend rehabilitation courses rather than harsher criminal sentences for possession.

Dr Bonnici said the proposed law had been widely criticised by legal experts, many of whom were opposed to handing over more discretionary powers to the AG.

“The main proposal was criticised because it was increasing the discretionary powers of the Attorney General.

“We are not proposing anything like that,” he said.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici had proposed the initial review.

He told this newspaper that he had many regrets about the time before his resignation and the failed Bill was one of them.

He was happy though that the reform that he had started was finally being taken up as a review was “definitely needed”.

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