Drug users may be given a severe reprimand rather than face criminal action if caught in possession of illegal substances for personal use.

The proposal is being considered by the government as it evaluates options for drug decriminalisation, according to Justice Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici.

In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, Dr Bonnici said Norwegian experts have recommended a policy of “diversion”.

“This means that if you are caught with an amount of drugs that is clearly intended for personal use, such as a joint, you are given a severe reprimand rather than going through the whole criminal process and ending up in court,” he said.

A draft law has been presented to the government, which Dr Bonnici and Social Solidarity Minister Marie Louise Coleiro Preca are reviewing before seeking Cabinet approval.

Dr Bonnici said the government was exploring different legal avenues when confronted with the fact that diversion did not necessarily equate with decriminalisation.

“Diversion can and cannot be decriminalisation but it does not necessarily mean the person will have to appear in front of some board,” he insisted, adding the most important thing was that somebody caught with drugs for personal use did not end up facing criminal procedures.

Decriminalising the personal use of drugs was mentioned by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in Parliament when closing the debate on the Budget.

The subject was again raised recently after Welshman Daniel Holmes lost an appeal against a 10-year prison term for growing cannabis at his Gozo apartment.

Campaigners for a more lenient approach to drugs have advocated the Portuguese model, where drug use and possession for personal use of all illicit substances was decriminalised 13 years ago.

But with the government looking at the Norwegian model instead, the probability is that leniency will take the form of a reprimand or fines.

ksansone@timesofmalta.com