SINGAPORE (DPA) - Malaysia's health minister pledged to decriminalise drug addiction and drug possession for personal use, in a move it calls a "game-changer policy," according to a press statement released late on Thursday (June 27).
"Decriminalisation is the removal of criminal penalties for possessing or using a small quantity of drugs for personal use," Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said in the statement. "This is not to be mistaken for legalising drugs," the minister said, reiterating later that trafficking of drugs will "undoubtedly remain a crime".
The ministry said the move would be a critical next step towards "achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration", calling addiction "a complex chronic relapsing medical condition".
"An addict shall be treated as a patient (not a criminal) whose disease we would like to cure," the statement added.
The minister also pointed to evidence that showed decriminalisation of drug addiction had not led to an increase in drug use and drug-related offences, and had instead led to reduced costs in the criminal justice system.
Malaysia's Home Minister Muhyiddin Yasin said on Monday that 70,000 inmates were being held in Malaysian prisons, most of whom were drug addicts.
"With the process of decriminalisation, prisoners who are categorised as drug addicts will be given treatment and rehabilitation," he said in comments carried by local daily Malaysian Insight.
The measure is considered unprecedented, as punishment for non-drug trafficking offences in Malaysia can range from imprisonment, whipping and fines, depending on the type and amount of drugs possessed and degree of offence.
However, capital punishment is still enforced for drug trafficking in Malaysia.