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News February 22 2004
“Why should I fight this battle on my own?” – Tonio Borg
The recent spate of drug overdose deaths, five in all over the last two months, have revealed the extent with which the law on drug trafficking is negatively affecting the chances of survival for drug overdose victims.
As social workers assisting drug offenders speaking to MaltaToday confirmed, more users are refusing to accompany friends who fall victim to a drug overdose into hospital for treatment, fearing they would be implicated as drug traffickers for having shared drugs with them prior to their death. The debate on changing the law concerning trafficking intensified following the death of a 20-year-old woman who was dumped out of a car at around two in the morning on 3 February.
The illogical definition of the law, which makes sharing a drug equal to trafficking, has now been acknowledged by more than one party, including not only national drug agency Sedqa and other social workers, but also Home Affairs and Justice Tonio Borg, who has expressed his personal conviction that it was high time to differentiate between drug sharing and trafficking more than once:
“It is unacceptable that someone who is not a drug trafficker is accused of being one simply because he shared drugs with his girlfriend. I am not in favour of decriminalisation since after all this remains a criminal offence. But should there be a mandatory sentence of imprisonment? I believe it should remain at the discretion of the court, in these relatively small cases.”
Action in this regard however has yet to be taken, and Minister Tonio Borg has not committed himself to drafting the amendments to the law in the near future.
“When I had moved for the law that would see that those who import drugs for their personal use would not be automatically sentenced, all hell broke loose. Why should I fight this battle on my own?” Borg declared. The minister said he will be waiting for an opinion on the matter from a group presided by the President of the Republic Guido de Marco.
The forum, which groups the Police force, Sedqa, the National Commission on the abuse of Drugs, Alcohol and other Dependencies, and Caritas, only started meeting again a few weeks ago after an inactive period of six months.
“I wish to see the report of the President’s forum on this matter, to see if they agree with the proposal. The problem is how to draft the law. I would draft the law in such a way not to allow any loopholes that would let the big fish swim away. I’m waiting for a report from this commission and then I’ll take the initiative to have a wide consensus, which would be better to enable such a law pass through parliament.”
However, MaltaToday is informed that the forum has no set obligations to deliver any report to the Minister for Home Affairs in the near future. Whilst Tonio Borg said he will be waiting for a report from the President’s forum, a spokesperson from the Office of the President said the forum was not there to take decisions, but to encourage discussions and sharing of information between the partners in the fight against drugs:
“The discussion on drug sharing is underway. There has been consensus throughout all the meetings, and we are aiming at specific proposals, but there are no specific deadlines.”
According to Stephen Vella, of national drug agency Sedqa, the meetings have brought the concerned parties together, as well as kick-starting the debate on the proposals related to amending the laws concerning drug trafficking and the implications this has on smaller users.
“Last year, the groups forming part of the President’s task force signed a declaration to co-operate together on drug-related matters, in a bid to bring us together and pool our resources together.
“My personal opinion is that the police should show some amnesty to those users who accompany their friends to hospital in the case of an overdose, without the fear of being prosecuted. The police are in fact working on the caring aspect of this reality. However, a misnomer has been created due to the fact that someone was prosecuted in a similar episode in which he brought in a friend who had died of an overdose, so others are now fearing that this will repeat itself. But another important factor is fear. If someone is actually on the verge of dying many will panic and dump the victims wherever they are.”