Indonesia Anonymus

We are a group of Indonesians, ranting about our beloved country. This blog is a result of many people grumbling about many things in many ways.
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Anonymus is the Latin word for anonymous, the correct English spelling. The Latin spelling, however, is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to an ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work. Read more at Wikipedia.

Our blog in Bahasa Indonesia (but rarely updated) can be found here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's no crime

In the past (and in our book) we wrote our opinion that drug users should not be thrown to jail.
That drug users are not criminals. They committed no crime.

(We think for an act to be considered a crime, there should be at least a victim. Either a loss or damage of property, injury, death etc.
When people use drugs, there is no other victim other than themselves.
This should set a clear differentiation between drug users and drug dealers. Drug users are not criminals, drug dealers are).

So let's say we change the law and drug users don't need to worry about jail anymore. What will happen?

We so far collected this concerns among us:

1. If people can do drugs freely, won't our street be full of drug addicts, hovering around, knocked out unconscious on the sidewalks and city parks?

2. Will the number of drug addiction rise because of it? After all, if we can do it freely, we would at least try, right? And then got hooked?

3. With harsh drug law in neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore, wouldn't drug tourists from those countries will just come to Indonesia in great numbers to get high?
Wouldn't that ruin Indonesia's reputation? Visit Indonesia and get high!

So let's get this straight: We, the IA folks are old people, we are not that funky and we are not suggesting legalization of drugs.
We are suggesting that it is not a crime and the punishment should not be jail.

This means, you will still have to answer to the authority when you use drugs. You just won't be thrown to jail. Instead, we will make sure you undergo therapy. (more on this later).
So no, our streets won't be suddenly flooded with people getting high. It's not that kind of freedom.

Decriminalization. Not legalization.
We want drug users to feel safe when they admit that they have problems.
After all, how do we expect them to admit their addiction if we'll throw them in jail as soon as they open their mouth?
We want them to openly seek help. And get help. Just like people with alcohol or gambling addiction need.

But if drug-use is so lightly punished, will the number of addiction increase? What about drug tourists from neighboring countries?

It may be good to learn from other country's experience on this, so it was heaven-sent that we found the report on Drug Decriminalization in Portugal [1].

Apparently, in 2001 a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs and that means:

"...drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. [1]"

Starting in 2001! So what's the result? Bear in mind that Portugal is part of the European Union, and that people within the EU have freedom of movement. With Portugal the only country in the region decriminalizing drug use*, do European drug addicts flock to Portugal to get high?
No. Did not happen.

"Roughly 95 percent of those cited for drug offenses every year since decriminalization have been Portuguese.
Close to zero have been citizens of other EU states" [3].

Do number of drug addictions rise? No. It went down. It is "in numerous categories are now among the lowest in the European Union [2]".
Drug related problems, including sexually transmitted diseases and death from overdoses has decreased. The number of newly reported cases of HIV and AIDS among drug addicts has declined substantially every year since 2001 [3].

So there you go.

All right. We mentioned therapy earlier, and of course we do caught some concerns from some of us here:

"Therapy is not cheap. If therapy is mandatory for all drug addicts, who's going to pay for it? There are plenty of poor addicts out there who cannot afford therapy.
So who's going to pay? The government? Using our tax money?
I won't be too happy if my tax money is used to finance addictions when it is badly needed to improve our education, our infrastructure etc.
There is no way I am paying for that."

But then one responded:

"Oh really? Then who's paying for all drug addicts' food and care when they are in jail right now? Jail is not cheap either, and guess what: you've been paying for it.
That includes paying for the judges, prosecutors and the courts for processing each and every one of this offenders. That's money too, you know."

"and what about the offenders who are actually productive citizens and got caught for recreational drug use? This folks are in jail doing nothing when otherwise they will be working and paying taxes. What about the loss of tax revenue there? If they go to therapy instead, they can still work and in turn pay their taxes."

In a way, providing therapy would be money better spent, because a drug free generation will be a more productive generation. And if it can help reducing the number of addicts, as it does in Portugal, then we will spend less and less in the long run. And our jails won't be overcrowded.

And of course there is another concern starting from this point, as one friend put it:

"I can already see it now: dodgy therapy clinics sprouting all around us, taking the government money, selling 'I completed my therapy and I am clean' certificate to drug addicts, without even providing proper service.
For sale: get-out-of-jail card. Get one now. 20% off for repeat offenders..."

Ah. We never say it's a perfect world....

* Some dear readers may wonder when we wrote Portugal as the only country in the EU that decriminalize drug use. What about the Netherlands?
There is decriminalization and there is depenalization. Depenalization means drug use itself is still a crime. In a “depenalized” framework, drug usage remains a criminal offense, but imprisonment is no longer imposed for possession or usage even as other criminal sanctions (e.g., fines, police record, probation) remain available.
No EU state other than Portugal has explicitly declared drugs to be “decriminalized.” [3]

[1] - Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies

[2] Portugal's drug policy: Treating, not punishing
The Economist, August 29 - September 4 2009, page 23

[3] Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, Glenn Greenwald, CATO Institute.
(PDF File.)


Anonymous colson said...

Wise words from beginning to end.

But to the best of my knowledge I live in a country, The Netherlands, where a sharp distinction between soft and hard drugs has been made in the first place. Hard drugs usually are countered by criminal law. With the exception of the user who is considered to be a client for public health care.

As for soft drugs, cannabis, the situation is quite different. The production of cannabis is still a criminal act, dealing cannabis requires permits ("coffeeshops"), and the possession of cannabis -up to a limit- is free.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...


thank you for the additional info.
Really appreciate it.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Jakartass said...

100% agree with you.

I did write something vaguely similar for thew Globe, but (unfortunatel?) they said it was a commonly held viewpoint. I beg to differ.

Otherwise why are the jails full of 'addicts'?

6:41 PM  
Blogger Indonesia Anonymus said...

Mr. J,

the globe said it's "A commonly held viewpoint?"

We beg to differ too.
Commonly-held by the editorial team of the globe, maybe. They need to go out more.

Any chance we can read your piece anywhere?

12:39 AM  

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