Justice Ministry studying magistrate’s criticism of ‘draconian’ drugs law

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Woman was imprisoned because there was no option, court complained

The Justice Ministry is studying a recent magistrate’s judgement which was critical of a ‘draconian’ drugs law which forced the court to imprison a woman even though imprisonment was not viewed as justified.

Earlier this month, Times of Malta revealed how a magistrate was forced to jail a 39-year-old woman for six months for cultivating six small cannabis plants for her personal use – because the law  “fails to distinguish between who deserves an effective jail term”.

The court had observed that due to the wording of the law, the woman would have benefited from a legal provision that would spare her a jail term – had she cultivated one large plant instead of six small ones with a total leaf weight of five grams.

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras said that the Drug Dependence Act, enacted in 2015, was originally intended to ensure that those found guilty of simple possession of small quantities of drugs were not jailed but fined.

However the law, as worded today, was failing to achieve this goal and forcing the courts to jail people even if the courts were convinced they did not deserve imprisonment.

The magistrate ruled as she ordered a copy of her ruling to be sent to Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.

In a Facebook comment on Monday, Dr Bonnici said his ministry was studying the court’s sentence with ‘an objective mind’.

He pointed out that the law had ushered in major reforms – some even said the reforms went too far.

The biggest change was that the court could opt not to jail addicts who were on the path of reform when the drug in their possession was for personal use.

Before 2015, any cultivation of drugs led to a mandatory prison term. From 2015, the law laid down that cultivation of a single plant for personal use need not lead to a prison term. The issue now was what would happen when a person cultivated six plants, still clearly for personal use.

Dr Bonnici said while the situation was being examined, he was appealing to everyone to be well informed about the 2015 law before making certain statements.

The case in question dates back to July 2014 when police searched the Sliema home of Marieclaire Camilleri and found six small cannabis plants in one pot.

The woman, now 39, was charged with cultivating cannabis.

During the hearing the woman had pleaded guilty. But the court insisted on hearing the evidence. Ms Camilleri said she cultivated the plants for her personal use and smoked about six joints a day to help her cope with anxiety.

Ms Camilleri has appealed her prison term.

“People should not go to prison on account of a bad law which, as drafted, defeats the very scope for which it was intended,” the woman’s lawyer, Joseph Giglio, said in a statement.

Related court case on Friday

In a related case, a reformed drug addict who used to cultivate cannabis plants to supplement his anti-depressants, was referred to the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board by an Appeals Court on Friday, shedding new light upon the law terms as “unjust” earlier this month.

The case involved a 42-year old Zebbuġ man who had landed a 20-month effective jail term and a €3,000 fine in 2017 after a Magistrates’ Court had declared him guilty of cultivating 21 cannabis seedlings, yielding 98.21 grams of the drug at 7% purity. He was also found guilty of cannabis resin possession.

In the course of appeal proceedings the accused’s lawyer requested the court to assume the functions of a Drugs Court and refer the case to the relative Board in terms of the Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act of 2014.

Madam Justice Edwina Grima, took note of a social enquiry report and concluded that the appellant was almost fully rehabilitated and now led a ‘stable life.’

Madam Justice Grima observed that even though article 7 of the law declared that a person found guilty of cultivating cannabis in excess of one plant was liable to a “mandatory term of imprisonment,” this did not exclude referral to the Board “so long as all the conditions were satisfied.”

timesofmalta.com

 

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