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19 Dec 2010

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Rational debates in this country on important subjects that are not party political but affect society profoundly have become an endangered species. If we cannot shout at each other or seek to undermine the other side, it seems we are not interested in talking about anything of substance at all.


In recent weeks we have been served up two examples. First the government distanced itself from the common sense call by the Central Bank Governor to means-test student stipends; and now it has shot down a call from a doctor at its own drug and alcohol abuse agency to have an urgent debate on whether drug use should be decriminalised.


The reason is fear of political repercussions -- Maltese undergraduates are currently the only students in Europe who seem to like their government, while any mention of relaxing drug laws opens the proposer up to all sorts of 'soft on crime' accusations -- and the opposition plays its ( silent ) part because it's sole objective is to pussyfoot its way into power without saying anything at all.


Yet the government's approach is rather like the old-fashioned advice given to Catholics when Jehovah's witnesses knock on their door: 'Turn them away as hurriedly as you would a plague carrier, and whatever you do, do not engage them in conversation.' This stance only serves to enhance prejudice at the expense of knowledge. The same applies to the drugs argument.


It is important to get one thing straight: drugs are bad. While we should not entertain the scare stories that are quite frankly not believed by many growing up today, there is clear scientific evidence to prove that even ( intense use of ) cannabis leads to mental problems - -- while harder drugs like heroin and cocaine wreak havoc on human beings' lives.


Yet when the Seqda doctor George Grech called for a debate, that was not the argument he was addressing. He was looking at the manner in which society is handling this scourge and how the approaches so far have obviously failed on a grand scale.


Malta has among the harshest penalties for drug use. Yet it is rampant. From the comfort of people's homes, to entertainment establishments, to ad-hoc parties around the island. And when drug users are sent to prison -- which seems to happen with more regularity than is the case for wife beaters -- rather than kicking the habit, they are exposed to more drugs and learn of new sources both inside and outside.


Dr Grech sensibly suggested the first step would be to classify different drugs rather than treat them all on the same level as is currently the case.


Then, he said, we should learn from what has happened in Portugal, which has decriminalised -- as opposed to legalising -- the personal use of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. This has led to a drop in drug use, as those who are caught are sent on mandatory rehabilitation programmes.


With money and resources being re-directed into education rather than penalisation, it is also likely that prisons will be less crowded and that police can dedicate more time to solving crimes such as theft, assault and, of course, drug trafficking, which is where their focus ought to be.


But before any of this can happen, we need to weigh up the pros and cons of any such move on our society. That can only happen if a debate takes place. Ignoring the issue will only make it worse.



powered.pngMAP posted-by: Jo-D





Share This Article delicious.gif digg.gif stumble.gif facebook.gif twitter.gif Pubdate: Sun, 19 Dec 2010

Source: Times, The (Malta)

Copyright: 2010 Allied Newspapers Limited

Contact: daily@timesofmalta.com

Website: http://www.timesofmalta.com/

Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/2310





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