The Malta Independent 8 May 2021, Saturday

Government to take first step to decriminalise use of drugs this evening in Parliament

Monday, 24 November 2014, 13:13 Last update: about 7 years ago

The government will this evening present the first reading of a law that will be the first step towards decriminalisation of simple drug possession, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said this afternoon.

The draft law proposes that first-time offenders caught with small quantities of drugs, in a situation which denotes no intention of trafficking, will no longer be sent to prison.

Instead, there will be fines of between €75 and €125 for people caught with less than two grammes of drugs or two ecstasy pills, while those caught with cannabis will be liable to a fine between €50 and €100.

Upon the second conviction or voluntary payment of the penalty before the Commissioner for Justice a person shall be referred to the proposed Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board which will take steps to assist rehabilitation.

A person convicted for a second or subsequent offence of possession of cannabis or of cannabis resin will only be referred to the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board if the Commissioner for Justice is satisfied that the offender is likely to abuse other drugs or if the offender does not appear before the Commissioner even if the penalty has been voluntarily paid.

Certain offences will be heard by a Drugs Court, which will refer the person caught with drugs to rehabilitation. The Drugs Court will be situated in a different location to the Courts in Valletta.

Dr Bonnici said he is considering appointing a non-lawyer as Commissioner for Justice. He said he is considering giving the post to someone who has experience in helping drug users. The Commissioner will then be assisted by lawyers on the legal points.

 If within a period of 18 months the Board reports to the Court that the rehabilitation was successful the Court will be entitled to recall all criminal prosecutions pending before the Courts against the accused and falling within its competence or extended competence (10 years imprisonment) to be heard before it and will also be entitled not to apply any mandatory period of imprisonment established by law or to apply a probation order or a suspended sentence.

During the time when the accused is referred to the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board the case shall continue to be heard but may not be decided.

Cultivation of one plant of cannabis yielding a small quantity for personal use will no longer be subject to a mandatory period of imprisonment or to the exclusion of the application of a probation order or a suspended sentence.

Medicinal preparations of the plant cannabis may be prescribed by a specialist physician if no viable alternative exists.

The use of  cannabis may also be prescribed by a specialist physician with the approval of the Superintendent of Public Health who may also impose conditions.

A Sentencing Policy Advisory Board will be established with the purpose of drafting sentencing policies in respect of drug offences in order to try and ensure consistency between the punishments given by different Courts. The Minister may extend the remit of the Board to other offences.

Possession of prohibited drugs will still be subject to arrest especially in order to enable the police to investigate more serious related crime.

The benefits of the proposed law will not apply to persons dealing in drugs in the vicinity of schools, youth clubs or similar institutions, to drug offences related to correctional facilities and to persons selling drugs to minors, pregnant women or to persons who are undergoing a drug rehabilitation programme.

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