Jail should be last resort, says drug policy reform advocate

PETALING JAYA: A drug policy reform advocate has raised concerns over the 12-month jail sentence handed to a 17-year-old in Marang, Terengganu over his ketum addiction.

Lawyer Samantha Chong is of the view that a jail sentence should only be considered as a last resort.

“If he has a drug use disorder, then treatment and counselling should be better for him.

“Incarcerations should only be considered as a last resort,” she told FMT.

Chong was asked to comment on the punishment meted out against Ahmad (not his real name), after he pleaded guilty to possessing 1kg of ketum leaves last year.

Bernama reported that the 17-year-old had scored 7As in his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.

Chong explained that when a child uses drugs, there would be other underlying factors, for instance depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), broken family and social exclusion.

“In this case, he clearly felt lonely and then he hung out with the wrong friends.

“It is not like they didn’t know drugs are bad. It is because of peer influence and the need to escape loneliness and emotional pain. Therefore, they end up using drugs,” she said.

Chong stressed that it is never enough to just say no, adding that victims need help to fill their time with meaningful activities and that mental health support should be made more accessible.

She also stressed the need to develop sentencing guidelines, like what has been done in the United Kingdom.

“Sentencing guidelines are standards that are generally put in place to establish rational and consistent sentencing practices,” she said.

She said there are many cases similar to Ahmad’s but are not reported.

“Children like this often live in a vicious cycle of poverty and addiction. The question is, how do we break the cycle?

“Although they won’t have a criminal record, putting a child through prison is like throwing a toothbrush into toilet bowl. No matter how many times you have cleaned it, it is not going to be the same again.

“This is what we call stigma,” she added.

Ahmad had reportedly said he regretted his actions, more so since he was an exemplary and excellent student while studying in a secondary school in Kota Bahru, Kelantan.

He admitted that the predicament he finds himself in is his own doing.

He reportedly said he was lonely but finally found companionship in five friends who talked to him.