Law Minister states that drug use should be treated as a health and not a criminal justice issue
LONDON (17 JANUARY) – At a meeting of the Malaysian cabinet on January 17, Law Minister Liew Vui Keong called for sections of the country’s Dangerous Drugs Act to be amended to ensure that drug use is no longer criminalised.
Minister Vui Keong stated that a law enforcement approach to drug use has not only been ineffective, but has been detrimental to public health and been extremely costly for the government. He called for drug use to be treated as a health issue and for the health sector to be in charge, rather than the criminal justice system.
Naomi Burke-Shyne, executive director of Harm Reduction International, said: “It is extremely positive that senior Malaysian officials are beginning to recognise that a punitive approach to drugs has failed. The evidence is overwhelming that criminalisation and forced treatment are damaging to public health and safety more broadly.”
Burke-Shyne added: “Health-based approaches to drugs are shown to be cost-effective and have positive impacts for society. It is vital that any reform of the drug laws respect the rights of people who use drugs and be complemented with investment in evidence-based health and social services. Only then can some of the damage done by harmful drug laws be addressed.”
Portugal is regarded as a strong example of where moves to treat drug use as a health issue have brought significant positive results. After decriminalising drugs in 2001, Portugal saw HIV rates and drug-related deaths fall among people who use drugs, and saved the country’s legal system money.
Minister Vui Keong’s statement follows a government announcement in October 2018 that it would move to abolish the death penalty; however, a bill is yet to be laid before parliament. Approximately 75% of inmates on death row in the country are there for drug offenses.
According to Harm Reduction International’s research, at least 33 countries and territories have the death penalty for drugs in law, though only a handful – such as Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Indonesia and Singapore – have carried out executions in recent years.