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Drug Users No Longer Treated as Criminals
Penalties for drug offenses are among the most severe in the world.
DAILYNEWS The Malaysian government is now changing their approach to dealing with drug problems, after more than 40 years applying the heaviest penalty for offenders.
Decriminalization of drug users in Malaysia is a radical policy change in neighboring Indonesia.
Drug users cause HIV, Hepatitis C and TB epidemics. Meanwhile, drug dealers still face the threat of capital punishment.
Outside a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, there is a white van parked.
This is the methadone car unit provided by the Malaysian government, and is part of an effort to make drug users no longer considered a serious crime.
"Seeing drug users as someone suffering from disease is important," said Nurul Izzah Anwar, a politician from the ruling Pakatan party, who encouraged the effort.
Lawmaker from the coalition Pakatan Nurul Izzah Anwar said 50 percent of prisoners in Malaysia are drug users Lawmaker from the coalition Pakatan Nurul Izzah Anwar said 50 percent of prisoners in Malaysia are drug users.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
"So how do we start this movement? How do we begin to instill awareness? Done through the mosque. Done through houses of worship," he said
Drug traffickers remain punished
Law Minister Liew Vui Keong explained that efforts not to make drug users criminals had the support of the cabinet and PM Mahathir Mohammad.
"Drug users don't need to be jailed, they need medical treatment," Liew said.
He referred to overcrowded prisons in Malaysia, 56 percent of whom were drug prisoners. The majority of them committed another violation after being released.
 Malaysian Law Minister, Liew Vui Keong, said that drugs must be approached in terms of health, not punishment.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
"In our research, we found that 90 percent of them will return to prison, because it cannot be easily accepted by the community," he said.
"They cannot get jobs, so they have a tendency to commit violations again."
The punishment for drug possession in Malaysia is one of the heaviest in the world.
Ownership of 200 grams of cannabis, 40 grams of cocaine, or 15 grams of heroin or morphine has been included in the offense, and the culprit could be sentenced to death.
Four people sit on the ground in a closed up market in Kuala Lumpur. Drug users are still often excluded from the public in Malaysia.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
Malaysian Law Minister Liew Vui Keong said that although it no longer punishes drug users, it does not mean that drug dealers will be released from punishment.
On the streets of Kuala Lumpur, ABC can easily find those who use drugs.
A man who was met by ABC in a department store that was no longer in use was using heroin for Rp 30 thousand.
The man has been in and out of prison 29 times.
"The police don't want to arrest him anymore, because so often he goes in and out of prison," said Yatie Jonet, who accompanied ABC that night.
Photo shows Malaysian woman Yatie Jonet standing in a Kuala Lumpur alley. Yatie Jonet said the prison sentence against drug users did not solve the problem.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
As a former drug user, Yatie herself has been jailed twice and in prison, her addiction is getting worse.
"I know more about selling drugs. I know big dealers," he said.
According to Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, the war on drugs failed to reduce the level of users.
"The fight against drugs has failed and has created many negative health and social impacts," he said.
A woman with glasses stands in a university hallway. Professor Adeeba Kamarulzaman has long campaigned that drug users must be rehabilitated rather than sentenced to prison.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
"From the health side this has caused an epidemic of HIV and Hepatitis C. And those who go to prison, more and more affected by TB."
HIV and Hepatitis C epidemic
Professor Adeeba felt something strange in Malaysia when he continued his medical education in Australia.
"In my years in Australia, I have never seen anyone who uses drugs infected with HIV," he said.
"When I returned to Malaysia, I saw drug users also affected by HIV. That is why we started supporting programs to reduce the impact of drugs."
But Prof. Adeeba realized the magnitude of the challenges. "It's a matter of changing the way of thinking," he said.
According to information obtained by ABC, the government's plan to amend the Law which was originally proposed at the end of the year is now postponed until next year.
"Decriminization is still not acceptable to many people. Both among law enforcement, religious leaders, and society as a whole," said Professor Adeeba.
A man holds a cigarette lighter to his drugs prior to injecting. Many drug users in Malaysia go to prison because they cannot get help from the public.
ABC News: Phil Hemingway
Back at the methadone car clinic in the courtyard of the mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Nurul Izzah Anwar showed the local priest how the car worked.
His efforts to help those who are addicted to drugs are based on the personal experience he saw, when he visited his father Anwar Ibrahim in prison.
"Over the years he has been a political prisoner, I see more than 50 percent of prisoners are due to drug crimes," he said.
"They are all poor. We must understand what is happening. Reducing drug dependence is the only solution," Nurul Izzah Anwar said.
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