A coalition of local NGOs conducted a workshop yesterday to review new drug laws proposed by the government.
Ahmed Adam, chairperson of drugs NGO Journey, said drug abuse was a “national issue” that urgently required a solution.
”We wish the MPs would cooperate with us hope they do not think this bill was politically motivated,” he said.
A number of participants at the workshop expressed concern about the difficulty they had reaching MPs. Adam said MPs had not even attended meetings to discuss the bill despite numerous invitations.
Among the NGOs represented at the workshop were Journey, Hand to Hand, Maldivian Detainee Network and Transparency Maldives.
History of drug use
Adam, a recovered drug addict, spoke briefly about the history of drug use in the Maldives.
Historical documents that reveal travellers who visited to the Maldives in the 16th century observed opium being used inside the palace, he said.
Moreover, in the 18th century, Indian traders introduced cannabis to the country.
”In 1972, with the advent of tourism in the country, most people started smoking grass,” he said.
The government was only alerted to what was happening much later, he added.
Adam said ‘brown sugar’, the low-grade heroin that is prevalent in the country, was introduced after the mass arrests of marijuana users in the early 90s.
A drug centre was established for the first time in the Maldives in 1997.
The discussions at the workshop focused on both the reasons why people get hooked on drugs and methods of prevention.
NGOs were divided into four groups and together discussed the drug epidemic and ways to solve it.
Among the factors identified that drove people to drug use were parental neglect, congestion and lack of privacy and space at home that draws children out to streets, peer pressure, lifestyle decisions as well as lack of job opportunities and proper role models.
The NGOs argued in favour of categorisation of drugs in the bill and called for the introduction of different methods and models for treatment apart from the existing therapeutic community (TC) model.
TC was not adequate for all types of drug addicts, they insisted.
While drug smuggling could be prevented by imposing penalties on customs officials suspected of accepting bribes, higher penalties should be imposed on convicted drug dealers, they agreed.
Drug traffickers and money they earn
Minivan News spoke anonymously to an individual who divulged information on drug trafficking in the Maldives.
He claimed that he sold drugs because he felt “pity for the sick people” [drug addicts] and did not want “to isolate them from society.”
He added that he did not face “any trouble” in attracting customers.
”If we sell good quality stuff to one person, he will go and tell his friends that we have good stuff and they also will start buying from us,” he said.
He claimed to earn “at least Rf15,000 every day” (US$1167) selling drugs, approximately Rf465,000 per month (US$36,186).
”Everyday one person will buy at least three to five packets, sometimes people from the islands come and buy 40 packets also,” he said, claiming that each 0.03 gram packet (of brown sugar) cost Rf100.
Almost one or two kilograms were smuggled into the country at a time, he explained.
The rise in crime was because drug addicts needed to feed their addiction, he said.
“All gangs are operated by people and money. Gangs earn money by selling drugs. If someone gets stabbed also the gangs would provide them with medication and financial assistance.”
Moreover, he said, “gangsters” would not have any source of income without dealing drugs.
“Real drug dealers” meanwhile, do not use drugs themselves, he said. The drug of choice for Maldivian youth was brown sugar, he added.
“There’s also hash oil, ‘white stuff’ and Charas [resin from the hemp plant] also in the market.”
While more treatment facilities and job opportunities should be offered to combat drug addiction, he said, ”drug dealers should be stopped first, but [the government] can never do that. Drug dealers are assisted by high-profile people in the country,” he said.
“First, they should figure out who they are and stop them, then come after the drug dealers. Then there will be no drug abusers in the country.”