Decriminalising small amounts of some drugs for personal use could help to “refocus strategies and channel resources in a much more creative way”, Together Gibraltar leader Marlene Hassan-Nahon said.
This will help tackle low-level drug users who are caught in a repetitive cycle of arrest and petty crime, she added.
A criminal record for the possession of a small amount of drugs “has a majorly adverse impact on the individual”, Together Gibraltar said in a statement, adding that it does nothing for them or the community.
Having a criminal record for a small amount of drugs can leave individuals “blacklisted for life”.
Together Gibraltar is committed to putting forward a drug strategy in its upcoming election manifesto following a meeting last week with local rehabilitation charity Stay Clean.
“Decriminalising does not mean legalising,” Mrs Hassan-Nahon said.
“Rather it is a way of refocusing strategies and channelling resources in a much more creative and effective manner to tackle a problem that blights many lives in our society as we speak.”
She said little is being done to address their underlying behaviours and said this is “clearly a drain” on resources in the criminal justice system, the health system, social services and people close to the drug user.
“We can truly break the back of this by adopting a more proactive approach,” Mrs Hassan-Nahon said.
“Drug use will still be tackled, however these low level users who account for the vast majority of drug arrests will be subject to certain processes still underpinned by the law.”
“This will channel them towards a more health-led approach rather than criminalising them which will them enables us to focus on drug supply where we can redeploy resources.”
The introduction of a juvenile rehabilitation is “vital” and “could mean all the difference between falling through the cracks and going down a criminal path or leading a full and productive life”.
The shortage of treatment times, availability in an emergency scenario when users most need support and lack of beds in Ocean Views and Bruce’s Farm were also discussed.
Stay Clean highlighted the lack of continued support after primary treatment in Bruce’s Farm and said most recovering addicts reported little or no continuity of care which has left them feeling “lost and confused” for the next steps forward.
In a joint statement Together Gibraltar and Stay Clean addressed the lack of arrest referral workers in police custody suites and law courts and the growing dependence on prescription drugs.
Damian Broton, Stay Clean’s chairperson, said: “Every person affected by substance use needs to be empowered and given the tools to be able to improve their quality of life, happiness and health.”
“Drug demand reduction needs a range of reinforcing measures including prevention, early detection and intervention, risk reduction, comprehensive treatment including rehabilitation, social integration and recovery to break the addiction cycle.”
Mrs Hassan-Nahon said this meeting was “extremely constructive” adding that it showed there is no drug addiction strategy in place or if there is one, it needs urgent attention.
“We need to treat drug addiction as a public health issue in order to properly address the issue instead of locking people up with no subsequent support or rehabilitation plan,” she told the Chronicle.
“Only then will we see a decrease in drug addiction numbers. People are desperate for more support and they are not getting it.”
“People are also complaining about how difficult it is to get back in the workplace decades after being caught with a small amount of drugs on them.”
“This does not help the individual or society to eradicate the problem.”
“It only compounds it.”