Malaysia Announces Plans To Decriminalize Minor Drug Offenses

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Malaysia Announces Plans To Decriminalize Minor Drug Offenses

The proposal is the latest in a series of criminal justice reforms being pursued by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government.

Malaysia Announces Plans To Decriminalize Minor Drug Offenses
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Malaysia is planning to decriminalize the possession and use of small quantities of illicit drugs, citing a need to reduce prison overcrowding, the latest in a series of criminal justice reforms pursued by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government.

Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution told reporters on Monday that under the proposed law, those found with small quantities of illegal substances will not be prosecuted but instead sent for lengthy stints of drug rehabilitation.

“For those found with small amounts of drugs, whether it was for possession or use, the idea is not to consider the act as a regular drug-related offence,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Last month, Malaysia’s Parliament approved a bill ending the mandatory use of the death penalty and limiting capital punishment to serious crimes. The law retained the death penalty for drug trafficking but said it will no longer be mandatory, with judges handed the discretion to impose a sentence of their choosing. The Anwar administration has also announced that it will seek to decriminalize suicide attempts. Currently, anyone attempting suicide can be fined or imprisoned for up to one year.

Like many nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia currently has terrifyingly strict drug laws. The police said nearly 29,000 people were arrested in 2022 for various drug offences, according to Reuters, the bulk of whom were users and addicts. Indeed, a large majority of the 1,318 prisoners on death row in Malaysia are also there because of drug-related crimes.

Saifuddin told the media that drug treatment will either take place in centers run by Malaysia’s anti-drugs agency Agensi Anti Dadah Kebangsaan (AADK), or will be community-based.

“Rehabilitation under the AADK will take two years and the user comes out and joins another program for two years in the community,” he said. “If the drug user is sent to a rehabilitation program in the community, it will be three years.”

A proposal on the new law is expected to be presented to cabinet in July for approval, Saifuddin said, and assuming it is approved, a draft bill will be tabled in parliament not long afterward for a vote.

The change has been justified as a measure to reduce prison overcrowding. While not nearly as overcrowded as in neighboring countries like the Philippines or Thailand, Malaysia’s prison system is currently over capacity. In March, Saifuddin told Parliament that a total of 78,236 people were currently in detention in a prison system designed to house around 65,000. “We hope that when this Act is introduced, we will be able to reduce overcrowding in prisons,” he told reporters this week.

The Anwar government’s drug decriminalization push follows in the footsteps, if still very far behind, Thailand, which last year became the first Asian nation to decriminalize cannabis. While the drug is not fully legal, and the rules around its use are complicated, the law has resulted in a booming recreational market that has prompted complaints from Thai conservatives. But it has also halted the flow of ordinary cannabis users into the country’s legal system.