Malaysia Moves Towards Decriminalizing Small Amounts of Illicit Drugs to Reduce Prison Overcrowding

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In a significant step towards criminal justice reform, Malaysia is planning to introduce a law that decriminalizes the possession and use of small quantities of illicit drugs. The proposed legislation aims to address the issue of prison overcrowding and reflects the government’s commitment to pursuing progressive reforms under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. This move follows recent reforms that abolished the mandatory death penalty and natural-life prison terms, with the government also expressing its intention to decriminalize suicide attempts. Malaysia, like several other Southeast Asian countries, has been known for its stringent drug laws, often imposing severe penalties on drug offenders.

However, the recent reforms passed by the government have taken a more pragmatic approach. While the death penalty for drug trafficking has been retained, judges will now have discretion in deciding whether to impose it on convicted offenders. Under the proposed law, individuals found in possession of small amounts of illegal substances would no longer face prosecution but instead be sent to drug rehabilitation centers for treatment. Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution explained that the aim is to view such acts as distinct from regular drug-related offenses. The proposal for the new law is expected to be presented to the cabinet in July for approval. If accepted, a draft bill will be tabled in parliament within the year.

It is worth noting that Malaysia serves as a significant transit point for illegal narcotics. In 2022 alone, nearly 29,000 people were arrested for various drug offenses, primarily involving drug addicts. The potential decriminalization of small amounts of illicit drugs signifies a shift towards a more compassionate and rehabilitative approach to drug-related issues in Malaysia. By focusing on treatment rather than punishment, the government aims to address the root causes of drug addiction and alleviate the strain on the country’s overcrowded prisons.

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