Tunisian govt to loosen drug laws

New system of penalties regarding drugs that exclude jail time for the first and second offense.

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Tunisian government met Wednesday to discuss adopting a new system of penalties regarding drugs that exclude jail time for the first and second offense.

An official statement run by the state news agency said that the draft law on drug intends to repeal “the law number 52 dated on May 18 1992 on drugs and compensated by a new law as part of the suitability of Tunisian legislation with international conventions ratified and the provisions of the new Constitution.”

The statement added that this new project aims to adopt a new approach based on prevention and guidance before imprisonment and implements an alternative punishment system that would help drug users reintegrate.

The new law mentions that any jail sentence would only be implemented in the case of the failure of the reform.

Tunisia currently has tough laws on cannabis use, laying down jail terms of at least one year for offenders. However, this legislation is “destroying lives” and overcrowding prisons, according to President Beji Caed Essebsi who, unsually, took part of the ministers council meeting.

Since the law was passed over two decades ago, “tens of thousands of Tunisians have been convicted,” a group said in an open letter to the government.

“But the number of people sentenced and the number of users continue to grow, proving that this law is not a deterrent. It has failed,” said the group, named Al Sajin 52 (or Prisoner 52) as the law is called.

Smoking “zatla”, or cannabis resin, is punishable by between one and five years in jail, with the same law prohibiting judges from passing lighter sentences, therefore, more than half of the 13,000 people in pre-trial detention, and around one third of Tunisia’s 11,000 convicts, were arrested for mostly drugs abuse according to official recors.

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