Together Gibraltar has dismissed government criticism that its drugs policy amounts to “a dangerous experiment”, insisting that addiction must be treated as a public health problem and users helped to escape a “vicious cycle” of jail and petty crime.
The party was reacting after Chief Minister Fabian Picardo accused it of adopting a “fingers-crossed-try-it-and-see” approach to drugs policy that included decriminalising small quantities of some drugs to free up resources and focus on a less punitive approach to tackling the drugs problem.
Earlier this week, the government had announced a comprehensive strategic approach to tackle what it described as Gibraltar’s “growing” drugs problem.
It plans to collect detailed evidence and draw on expert advice before drawing up policies to address “a complex and multifaceted” problem.
But that announcement drew an initial, scathing response from Together Gibraltar, which returned again to the fray yesterday.
“The Chief Minister is in no position to say that Together Gibraltar is trying to start a dangerous drugs experiment on the Rock,” the party said in a statement.
“Maintaining the status quo and conveniently brushing serious issues like these under the carpet by twisting what has been said is what is dangerous and irresponsible.”
Together Gibraltar said its “constant close contact” with recovering addicts had given it first-hand evidence that this issue was not being given the importance it deserved and that as a result, many people in the community were suffering daily.
It said the concept of decriminalisation had been analysed by a host of global experts including the United Nations, the British Medical Association and the Global Commission on Drugs, and had been proved to lead to better social outcomes.
“People who are in the know are fully aware of this, but the Government ignores them, and focuses on maximising electoral gains,” Together Gibraltar said.
“The community wants a system that yields positive results and ends drug abuse altogether.”
“After nearly eight years, the government have failed to deliver any results on this issue and we are beginning to seriously question whether any data exists at all.”
Together Gibraltar said the problem of drug abuse was as much as public health issue as it was a legal one.
Drug addicts must be treated with respect, support and the opportunity to reintegrate into society, as opposed to being stuck in a vicious cycle of jail and petty crime, the party said, adding that people were unemployable as a result of their criminal records.
Together Gibraltar cited Justice Minister Neil Costa, who on a Viewpoint programme in 2016 had said the argument could be made for decriminalisation of personal consumption and had hailed the success of “the Portuguese experience”.
On the programme, Mr Costa also said: “If government can ensure that by removing criminal penalties, young people and not so young people who have 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.”
Together Gibraltar contrasted Mr Costa’s statemented on GBC to the position outlined by the Chief Minister this week, adding: “It would therefore be wise and responsible for the Chief Minister to check first with the line put out by those in his own cabinet, before embarrassing himself with contradictions and false accusations.”
“Or is he, by default, suggesting that his own ministers are dangerous too?”
The party also took issue with the government’s position that moral and religious factors must be taken into account too when assessing how best to tackle the drugs problem, adding that to put these on a par with medical and scientific evidence “sets a dangerous precedent”.
“Well researched policy backed by reputable international authorities is all any government requires to take bold and important decisions on substance abuse,” it said.
“In terms of a moral stance, it beggars belief that this government purports to have any form of moral high ground.”
“Perhaps the pensioners, the teachers, the impoverished, those who cannot afford to buy or rent a home and the actual victims of drug pushers should be invited by Government to offer their views on the GSLP/Libs moral standing?”
It also hit out at Mr Picardo’s description of Together Gibraltar’s initial reaction to the government announcement as “unnecessarily combative”, which it said suggested he believed dissent from the government line was unnecessary in a democratic society.
“And going through the effort to distort our words for electoral purposes while he is supposedly on an important Brexit mission in London speaks volumes,” the party said.
“The drugs problem is a ticking time bomb in our society. It’s time it was taken seriously.”