The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

Next challenge is decriminalisation of drugs, PM maintains

Malta Independent Tuesday, 15 April 2014, 17:34 Last update: about 5 years ago

The next great challenge that the government will be tackling – following yesterday’s approval of the Civil Unions Bill – will be the decriminalisation of drug possession in certain circumstances, according to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Dr Muscat was speaking at a Labour Party press conference focusing on the Civil Unions Bill when he said that his party would be ready to tackle other taboo issues – after divorce and civil unions – and insisted that the decriminalisation of drugs was first on the agenda.

Noting that at present, simple possession of drugs could lead to imprisonment, Dr Muscat said that Malta had “a system that is not working in my opinion, it is failing our young and not providing them with the desired results.”

Drawing parallels with civil unions, he said that he was not concerned if he found 80% of the country opposed to these plans – the proportion that is purportedly against gay adoptions, although Dr Muscat strongly contested this figure – as that was his government’s vision.

Asked to elaborate, Dr Muscat noted that certain elements have been already put up for consultation, and that his Cabinet will now be discussing reforming Maltese drug laws.

The government would implement reforms after holding informed discussions, the Prime Minister said, adding that it would not postpone dealing with “certain issues which have long been swept up under the rug.”

PN reaction to civil unions ‘no surprise’

Dr Muscat had started his address by stating that there were two categories of people: those who waited for things to change and the others who changed them, and said that after yesterday’s vote, he was proud to form part of a government and of a parliamentary group that were firmly in the latter category.

The Prime Minister argued that the Nationalist Party’s decision to abstain from voting on the Civil Unions Bill would not have come as a surprise to historians.

He recalled that when women were granted the right to vote ahead of the 1947 general election, then-PN leader Nerik Mizzi had called for a referendum, and insisted that there were well-founded reasons behind people’s opposition to universal suffrage. Dr Muscat added that when the Criminal Code was amended in 1973 to decriminalise adultery and sodomy, the PN had called for more studies of the social implications of such a change.

“We laugh about what had happened 40 and 70 years ago... we will not need to wait so long to laugh about what happened yesterday,” Dr Muscat maintained, stating that people were quickly realising which side was on the right side of history.

The Prime Minister insisted that yesterday’s vote was not solely about the rights of LGBT people or of minorities in general, but about “the definition of society, the type of country we want Malta to be.”

He said that the PN’s criticism has been contradictory, as it simultaneously accused the government of going against the will of the majority and of acting in a populist manner.

Dr Muscat said that he did not accuse his PN counterpart Simon Busuttil of being populist, but of being weak.

He said that it was fortunate that the vote on the Civil Unions Bill was taken before the vote on the Constitutional amendment – put forward by MP Claudette Buttigieg, and reflecting a proposal made in the PN electoral manifesto – prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Dr Muscat said that Dr Busuttil played the role of Pontius Pilate, and said that the PN leader was aware that if a free vote had been granted, his parliamentary group would have been split into three factions: those voting for the bill, those voting against it and those who abstained.

He insisted that former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s stand on divorce legislation – MPs were given a free vote, and he voted against it – was a far more politically respectable position, as one knew where he stood.

Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli said that she was not surprised to see the Nationalist Party call for decisions to be postponed during debate on the bill, stating that this recalled its attitude when a bill decriminalising adultery and sodomy was being debated in 1973.

She insisted that not only have civil unions not been rushed in: “if anything, we are late,” she argued, stating that she failed to understand why it took so long to address the needs of families headed by same-sex couples.

Dr Dalli also noted that there was an inherent contradiction in the PN’s proposal of a constitutional amendment banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation – which was approved unanimously in Parliament after the vote on the Civil Unions Bill – and its opposition to allowing same-sex couples to apply to adopt children.

She maintained that she was serene in granting same-sex couples with the right to adopt children jointly as she was assured that adoption procedures would be strengthened: not least because both parents would be scrutinised, as opposed to the status quo of one of them applying as a single adoptive parent.

Both Dr Dalli and Dr Muscat insisted that their party did not conceal its plans to allow same-sex couples in a civil unions to adopt jointly before the general election, even though this was not explicitly mentioned in the party’s electoral manifesto.

Dr Muscat recalled that he was quoted as being in favour of adoptions by gay couples in January 2013, and that when the party answered a pre-election questionnaire by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, it had also made its position clear.

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