Photo: Agência O Globo
In the context of public health researches, the Citizen Observatory for Health (OCS) carried out a study on the problems of criminal accountability for illicit drug users in Mozambique. Taking int account various social and legislative issues analyzed, it was found that illicit drug use should be observed as a public health problem, not just a criminal issue.
The research, which focused on analyzing and reflecting on Law no. 3/1997 of 13 March on “Trafficking and Consumption of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Precursors and Preparations or other substances with similar effects”, involved seventeen people imprisoned for illicit drug use in the Maputo Preventive Prison (EPPM) and the Maputo Special Prison for Women (EPEMM), interviewed in April 2023.
One of the main findings is that the interviewees – drug users and people associated with drug use while in prison – are often discriminated against and laws are broken. On the other hand, there are delays in the paper processing so that they can be judged.
Having analyzed the legal framework, in order to understand the violation of the law, it can be noted that the article 55 provides for imprisonment of up to two years for both occasional and habitual users.
However, the judge can choose to exempt the occasional user. Exemption from the penalty, however, can only be applied if the user is a minor, not a repeat offender, who makes a commitment not to consume illicit drugs again and agrees to undergo medical treatment.
According to the same article, anyone found in possession of or acquiring an amount that exceeds the average individual consumption for three days of plants and substances is punished with a prison sentence of one year. If the limit is not exceeded and the quantity is not detailed, there is no penalty.
Despite the above argument, the article is imprecise in not establishing the quantity to be considered an individual average for three days. In other words, there are limitations to the calculation of considerable quantities.
On the other hand, Article 34 states that “Anyone who cultivates the plant Cannabis Sativa, commonly known as soruma, without being authorized to do so, shall be punished with 3 days to 1 year in prison.”
The article also presents an apparent contradiction in the legislation, establishing a penalty of 3 days to 1 year in prison for cultivation, while the law is more punitive in relation to consumption. This discrepancy raises doubts about the coherence and logic behind the penalties, since cultivation is intrinsically linked to the production, supply and consumption of illicit substances.
On the other hand, the law treats the consumption of illicit drugs as a matter of criminal policy, without any reference to this issue as a matter of public health. The same law does not take into account the socio-economic condition of the person who uses illicit drugs.
There is an urgent need to revise Law No. 3/1997
Taking into account the issues listed above, this research recommends that the consumption of illicit drugs be considered a public health matter, through the revision and regulation of Law No. 3/1997. It is therefore necessary for the state to be sensitive and willing to treat drug use as a public health problem, through the replication of innovative experiences by state actors and non-profit organizations in Mozambique.
Still in relation to the law, it is noted that when illicit drug users show symptoms of mental health disorders, they are referred to psychiatric services. Although it is questionable whether people who use drugs should be admitted to hospitals and/or psychiatric services, it would be necessary to analyze the treatment provided to patients, questioning the effectiveness of the treatment in reducing and eliminating the harm derived from drug consumption or use.
Rather than admission to hospitals and psychiatric services, the research suggests the creation of intermediate public services specialized in rehabilitation between health centers and communities. These could accompany and possibly reintegrate people who use illicit drugs into their families and the community close to their family.
Because the prevention and fight against drug use assumes that drug users are biobehavioral and criminal – without any humane and humanizing approach that could help them reduce the harm derived from drug use and in the rehabilitation process – the study recommends that Law 3/1997 should be revised and regulated so that it is specific in its definition of drug trafficking.
Likewise, the proposed revision serves to avoid the imprisonment of people who use illicit drugs, as well as looking at drug use as a public health problem, and providing an institutional approach to harm reduction, rehabilitation and social reintegration of people who use illicit drugs.
While the Law 3/1997 is not revised, according to the research, all the players in the criminal justice system should be made aware of how the law is decontextualized for the current context. The application of alternative sentences to prison and non-custodial sentences should be monitored to assess their level of effectiveness.
The research also points out that young people and the most vulnerable groups, from a socio-economic point of view, are more prone to drug use and suffer from its effects.
In this context, it is suggested that awareness-raising campaigns in schools should include parents and guardians, so that they can help control the behavior of their dependents and ensure continuous family support from childhood through adolescence.
The research also points to the creation of more employment and self-employment opportunities for the younger members of society, as a way of preventing them from entering the world of drugs through conscious, productive and profitable activities.
The full survey is available at: www.observatoriodesaude.org