Updated 4.20pm with Justice Ministry reaction

The Nationalist Party said Wednesday it is strongly against government plans that would see those found in possession of large amounts of drugs being 'let off lightly'.

In a statement, it said it is against plans which would see such people being considered as victims instead of traffickers.

"The Nationalist Party does not want drug traffickers to be let off lightly, as the government wants, and it is objecting strongly to having the real victims of drugs and the traffickers being considered in the same way by the law."

Reacting, the Justice Ministry said the Opposition was incorrectly interpreting the legal amendments being proposed, which it insisted would only apply when a court believed the accused had a drug addiction issue. 

The government is proposing to allow people caught with up to 500 ecstasy pills, 20 grams of heroin, 20 grams of cocaine or half a kilo of cannabis to be prosecuted by a drugs court rather than criminal court, if a magistrate believes they have an addiction problem. 

The PN says the proposal is a dangerous one and accuses the government of waving the white flag on the war on drugs. 

In a statement on Wednesday, it said that it was ironic and borderline insulting to see the government issue these proposals a day after Robert Abela visited victims of drugs at a rehabilitation centre run by Caritas. 

Were the government to get its way, the drug traffickers would end up being placed in rehabilitation centres with the real victims of drugs, making rehabilitation of the victims very difficult, if not impossible, it said. 

The PN urged all those who wanted the people to be protected from drugs to join it to this end and to sound their voice against the government's 'irresponsible' proposals. 

The country needed to be firm against drug traffickers while helping the victims, the party said.

The statement was signed by Karol Aquilina, shadow minister for justice, and Stephen Spiteri, shadow minister for social policy.

Justice Ministry: no comfort for drug traffickers

The Justice Ministry reacted to the PN criticism later on Wednesday. 

Prison sentences for drug traffickers would remain unchanged and harsh, the ministry said, adding that the amendments were intended to give the court leeway when it believed that the accused was a drug addict. 

In such cases, the court would now have the tools to direct accused people to rehabilitate themselves. 

"The maximum drug limits being cited have nothing to do with personal use," the ministry insisted. "A person caught with any amount of drugs, even less than those cited in the amendments, and who a court does not think has an addiction problem, will be processed in line with existing laws." 

"The government believes in having harsh penalties against drug traffickers and the public consultation currently under way in no way changes that." 

The ministry criticised the PN for trying to use the issue to score political points by misleading citizens about the law and its intentions. 

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