Parliament has approved the long-awaited Drugs Bill, submitted by ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik in December 2009 and detained in the Committee for Social Affairs since early 2010.
The bill is said to distinguish between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs while re-defining the treatment of users and traffickers. Witnesses to drug cases will also receive protection.
Ahmed Nazim, a Research and Development officer at Journey Rehabilitation Center in Male’, believes the bill will improve the situation on both sides of prison bars.
“Drug dealers will now face a more serious sentence, so that will reduce the amount of drugs on the street. And users will have a better chance for rehabilitation,” he explained.
Currently, the Maldives hosts one drug rehabilitation centre (DRC) at Himmafushi. The centre was recently reviewed by Journey and by Sri Lankan company Colombo Plan, Nazim said. He hopes Journey’s findings will be addressed by Colombo Plan.
“The current rehabilitation model is quite old. The methods are based on the assumption that drug addiction is a behavioral problem, but now scientists are saying that it’s a medical condition. The next phase of the DRC will be to address this by spreading information about addiction and recovery, and treating the patients more appropriately,” Nazim said.
Nazim pointed out that the Drugs Bill “puts a lot of emphasis on giving addicts proper treatment”, and accepts the medical argument.
“Because of this I think the current social stigma about drug addiction will be reduced,” he surmised.
Recovering addicts have said that tight social conditions on Male’ make it difficult for them to get a fresh start and maintain a drug-free record.
Journey has advocated for improvements to the drug policies for several years. In 2010 it sent a petition with 4,000 signatures to Parliament urging members to pass the bill. The petition was revised for administrative reasons and re-sent last month.
Nazim is pleased that the bill was passed but believes it should have received prompt attention. “[Drugs] are a serious issue in the Maldives, but the bill didn’t get the proper attention from the Parliament and it was stuck,” he said.
Minivan News understands that the Drugs Bill has been supported by opponents of the Second Chance Program, a 2011 initiative to socially rehabilitate prison inmates whose sentence and behavior in prison qualify them for early, assisted release.
In a previous article by Minivan News, Journey volunteer Imlaq Shareef claimed that drug use was increasing daily, and that recovering addicts had little social or institutional support. He added that drug use is often linked to prostitution, a concern for the Maldives which has lately prompted the government to close spas nation-wide.
Police Drug Enforcement Unit Superintendent and Chief Inspector Mohamed Jinah considers the bill “well drafted”, and believes it will improve judicial proceedings.
“The most important points that we felt should be incorporated were incorporated,” he said. “This bill will be very useful and instrumental for the police enforcing the drug policies.”
Jinah explained that the drug court would separate traffickers from users, and distinguish punishments appropriately. He added that the system would allow police enforcement officers to focus more on trafficking issues than on users.
“It’s a dramatic change from the previous system,” he said. “Users will now be dealt with in the drug court, which will have officers with expertise in drug use and rehabilitation to help advise them. The traffickers will be dealt with in the criminal court.”
Jinah advised that while the bill intends to establish several new rehabilitation centres along with other measures to improve the drug situation, the financial logistics have not yet been worked out.
A report released this fall by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) asserted that the Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”.
According to author and UNDP Program Specialist Naaz Aminath, small-time drug users in their early 20s “are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives,” while drug traffickers serve an average sentence of 25 years.
Parliament today held its final session before a two-month recess. Relevant bills waiting to be addressed include the Penal Code Bill, submitted in July 2009, and the Prisons and Parole Bill, submitted June 2010.