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Contrary to popular beliefs, harsh punishment does not has a significant effect in reducing drugs abuse.

Retno Wulandari   09 March 2017 13:00

The government is considering options to revise the Law on Narcotics. Current law has sent thousands of drugs users to prisons instead of rehabilitation centers. Drug dealers face even harsher punishment, from jail time to death penalty. However, the strict law has yet to reduce the number of drug abuse and trade.

We have learned from the United States why criminalization might not be the right answer for drug-related problems, now we’ll try to explore the opposite option: decriminalization of drug use.

“Criminalization undermines the real problem here: drug use is a health issue,” said Erasmus Napitupulu, senior researcher of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) in a discussion last month.

According to National Narcotics Agency (BNN) report, the estimated number of drug abusers in 2013 to 2014 is approximately 3.1 million to 3.6 million people, equivalent to 1.9% percents of the Indonesian population of age 10-59. 

The number of drug users in June 2015 reached 4.2 million and it significantly increased by November 2015 to 5.9 million users.

Up until September 2016, there were about 24,914 drug users behind bars and the number continues to grow.

“These data should explain that the application of criminal penalties didn’t give significant change in the effort to eliminate drug abuse in Indonesia,” said Erasmus.

Criminalization of drug users has also been proven to be costly. In 2014, the government spent Rp 6,500 per prisoner only for their food. If we multiply it with the total incriminated users, we spent roughly Rp162 million on prisoners’ food every single day. We haven’t even counted the facility maintenance fees, the wardens’ salary and other things.

There are also expenses paid by families of detainees every month to ensure the detainee’s needs fulfilled, ranging from Rp 500,000 to Rp 4.6 million per month.

Erasmus suggested the government to change their approach from criminal approach to health approach. Instead of sending users to jail, why don’t the government use the budget and energy to provide better healthcare and rehabilitation programs so users can heal and stop their addiction?

This idea might sound absurd for some people, but it has been proven effective in some countries.

Portugal is one of the success stories. It is now one of the countries with the lowest prevalence of drug users in Europe. Portugal introduced the decriminalization in 2001, and it managed to lower its prevalence rate of drug users among youth aged 15-24 from eight percent in 2001 to below six percent in 2012. They also managed to reduce other drug-related problems.

Czech Republic shows similar result. It implemented the decriminalization policy in 2008, and within five year the country saw significant change. The prevalence of cannabis users aged 15-34 dropped from 28.2 percent to 21.6 percent; and the prevalence of methamphetamine users at the age of 15-34 also fell from 3.2 percent in 2008 to 0.7 percent in 2013.

But, the big question is: would Indonesia even consider the approach?

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