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Community should debate drugs decriminalisation, Costa says

Recreational and medicinal use of cannabis should not be penalised, Health and Justice Minister Neil Costa said last week, adding he believed Gibraltar should have a community-wide debate on decriminalisation.

Mr Costa was speaking on GBC’s Viewpoint just days after the Equality Rights Group and rehabilitation campaigners Stay Clean called for Gibraltar to review its approach to drug abuse and regulation.

The campaigners have urged the Gibraltar Government to wrest control of the sale of drugs from criminal gangs and implement a controlled system of regulation that places the emphasis on health and rehabilitation.

Echoing that view, the minister said money and resources could be better employed targeting those who imported and sold drugs, rather than prosecuting people caught with small amounts for personal use.

And he highlighted the difficulties faced by many people in the community who found that convictions for possession of drugs hampered their job prospects.

“We are in effect penalising that same person twice,” Mr Costa said.

“If the government can ensure that by removing criminal penalties, young and not so young people who’ve got criminal convictions for drugs are going to be gainfully employed and are able to lead a happier life, then I will be the first one to say that we need to do it.”

The issue is being closely monitored by those with stakeholder roles on the front line of the drugs problem.

The Royal Gibraltar Police told the Chronicle that it was aware of the debate in the community on the possible decriminalisation of some drugs, though it refrained from taking a position at this stage.

“This is a complex issue which can be approached from a number of perspectives, not least the impact that decriminalising drugs could have on crime,” a spokesman said.

“It would be inappropriate to make any other public statements on the matter at this stage other than to say that the RGP stands ready to participate in, and contribute to, any policy-making body formed to consider and advise on the issue.”

Mr Costa told Viewpoint that both police and drug specialists agreed “there is a drugs problem” in Gibraltar.

But he added that experience in other countries showed tackling drugs as a criminal problem was not necessarily the best solution.

“My view is that personal possession of drugs should not be criminalised,” he said.

“My view is that personal possession and consumption of drugs is a health issue.”

Mr Costa used the example of society’s regulation and control on the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco products.

He suggested that the consumption of drugs such as cannabis could be controlled in the same manner.

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