I’ve been harping against Malta’s rainbow parties (hence PNPL) that promise everything to everyone, attempting to please all, for a long while by now.
Obviously pleasing everyone is logically impossible when it comes to enacting laws. That is, unless you manage to dupe all sides that you are actually giving them something.
I’ve also been harping many times against Malta’s irrational, unsustainable and utterly cruel laws on drugs. At this very moment, people who harmed no one are rotting in our prisons, at the expense of the taxpayer.
Thus, with national elections in sight, Justice Minister Chris Said, threw a bone at those outraged by our oppressive laws on drugs.
First-time drug users arrested for simple possession will be able to avoid court!
Huh? The bone has no juice at all. Well OK, it will save them the lawyer fees. Otherwise this law changes nothing.
In practically all cases, people arrested for the first time for simple possession get, at worst, conditional discharge. No prison. No fine. And the police conduct will become clean after the term of the conditional discharge is over. In most cases, for such a minor offence this means in less than a year.
What makes this legal amendment nothing more than a gimmick, is the word “simple” before the word possession.
Contrary to popular belief, simple possession and personal use are not the same thing by Maltese law. Yes, people who never sold a single gram of any illegal drug can – and are being – accused and convicted of crimes the equivalent of trafficking. Crimes that carry a minimum effective prison sentence – in other words a sentence that cannot be suspended, or even changed for work in the community!
How? The following cases of possession of drugs fall in this category. They may be cases of possession but it is not “simple”.
1) Cultivation: Any kind of cultivation of illegal drugs (the most common being cannabis) is punished with an effective prison sentence. Even if the amount is so small that when consumed doesn’t even get your cat high. If it’s in a pot and grows from a seed, that’s cultivation. You’re going to jail.
2) Import/Export: If, while getting high in Amsterdam you forgot to throw all the stuff away before boarding the plane. If you left some weed by mistake, or intended to smoke it at home. Even if, once again, the amount is miniscule, that’s still not simple possession. That’s import. You’re going to jail.
3) Sharing: Most drug users share drugs. Cannabis users pass a spliff around. Heroin addicts sometimes share the same spoon and needle (which is very dangerous, but goes beyond the purpose of this article). Friends may buy LSD or Ecstasy together and share it. No intent for profit, nothing more than the equivalent of “ghamillu drink” at the bar. If the police want to seek the pound of flesh and are able to prove it is not simple possession. It’s sharing. You’re going to jail.
People are, at this very moment in prison because their possession was “aggravated” due to of one of the reasons above. And after this legal amendment, this gimmick, passes, people guilty of these offences, will keep on going to jail. It changes nothing.
There are, obviously other serious anomalies in our laws on drugs which are not being addressed. Repeated offenders of even simple possession can and do get imprisoned. There is also no classification between soft and hard drugs which gives an incentive for dealers to import hard drugs, where the big money is. Not to mention the fact that punishment for anything related to drugs is disproportionately harsh especially when compared to violent crime.
But even on the issue that this law is supposed to address – not sending first time drug users to jail – this law changes nothing. The ones affected by this law are the ones who wouldn’t have been going to jail anyway.