Malaysia to decriminalise drug use, says health minister

Malaysia has some of the world's most punitive drug policies, but the new government is reviewing the approach.

    Health Minister Dzulkefly says Malaysia plans to remove criminal penalties for the possession and use of drugs in small quantities [File: AP]
    Health Minister Dzulkefly says Malaysia plans to remove criminal penalties for the possession and use of drugs in small quantities [File: AP]

    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Malaysia, which has long imposed harsh penalties for the possession of drugs, will stop the criminal prosecution of users in what Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad described as a "game changer policy".

    Dzulkefly noted that 30 countries around the world had already taken steps towards decriminalisation stressing that the decision was a "sensible path forward" and did not mean Malaysia was legalising drugs.

    "Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal penalties for possessing and using a small quantity of drugs for personal use, as opposed to those who are involved in trafficking drugs," he said in a statement. "Trafficking of drugs will undoubtedly remain a crime."

    Under existing legislation, people found using drugs can be fined and jailed, and just half of the more than 65,000 inmates in the country's prisons are there after being found guilty of drug possession.

    People caught with 200 grams or more of cannabis or 15 grams or more of heroin or morphine are presumed to be trafficking, an offence that currently carries a mandatory death sentence.

    Decriminalisation will be a critical step towards achieving a national drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration.

    Dzulkefly Ahmad, Minister of Health

    Law Minister Liew Vui Kheong told Al Jazeera last November that the government had embarked on a review of drug policies, and some prominent politicians have been campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes. There is currently a moratorium on executions amid an ongoing debate over the death penalty.

    Liew said at the time that a less punitive approach to drugs would mean the money currently spent on incarceration could be redirected towards treatment and education programmes. Malaysia began a harm reduction programme in 2005 as part of efforts to curb the spread of HIV.

    The health minister said drug use was a complex, chronic condition that could be triggered by a variety of factors from family breakdown to poverty and peer pressure and was best treated in a medical setting rather than a prison.

    "Drug decriminalisation will indeed be a critical step towards achieving a national drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration," he said. "An addict shall be treated as a patient [not as a criminal], whose addiction is a disease we would like to cure."

    The next session of parliament is due to begin on Monday. Dzulkefly did not say in his statement when the proposed changes in the law would be introduced.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News