Under changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act recently tabled in Parliament, repeat drug abusers who do not face other concurrent criminal charges will be redirected to the prison-run Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) instead of long-term imprisonment. Currently, abusers arrested for the third time or more for drug consumption are given long-term imprisonment sentences. The proposals suggest a more nuanced approach to drug taking and seek to differentiate it from associated crimes that increase the threat to society.
The distinction lies in treating addicts as perpetrators of a social ill who should be treated with an eye on their recovery as far as is possible, with the force of the law reserved primarily for full-blown criminal behaviour by addicts. This is the kind of distinction that a country is in a position to make as it matures socially. Admittedly, "pure" drug-takers, and those who take drugs and commit other crimes, both inflict harm on themselves and society. Drugs destroy lives, make people economically dysfunctional and wreck family and wider relationships. It is not true that they do not hurt anyone but the addict. But compounding the problem are the crimes that abusers also commit, whether to pay for drugs or while under the influence of drugs, or both. That is an additional affliction on society. Much as degrees of aberrant social behaviour are graded, so should the consequences of drug use - from the dreadful practice itself to its extended consequences.