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Egypt MP Proposes Law to Decriminalise All Drug Use

An Egyptian MP has proposed a draft law that would decriminalise the personal use of drugs, though the move has received a mixed response.

John Talaat, an independent MP and deputy governor of Cairo, has put forward draft legislation which would end the criminalisation of drug use, and offer people “treatment” instead. Talaat said this reform was necessary because “treatment is better” than “the cost that the state spends on [imprisonment]”. He also noted that many of those currently prosecuted for drug offences are young people, meaning that criminalisation is “wasting their future”.

Talaat suggested people found using drugs should receive “treatment … for a period of time from 3 to 6 months, in order to address drug addiction” instead of incarceration, though he did not describe whether this would be mandatory.

Currently, Egypt implements a strict punitive approach towards drug use. Law no. 122 of 1989 (Concerning the Control of Narcotic Drugs and Regulation of Their Utilization and Trade in Them) states that anyone found taking an illegal drug "in premises which have been prepared or arranged" for such actions:

“[S]hall be punished by imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and a fine of not less than 1,000 pounds [$56 USD] and not more than 3,000 pounds [$167 USD]. The penalty shall be doubled in the event that the narcotic substance offered for taking is cocaine [or] heroin …”

Talaat’s proposed law would make no change to policies on drug trafficking, an offence which can carry the death penalty for those convicted.

Dr. Salah Fawzi, a member of the Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform and a professor of constitutional law, offered lukewarm support for Talaat’s proposal. He stated that there is no constitutional obstacle to such reform, and that other countries have successfully implemented similar measures, so the proposed measures should be studied and discussed.

However the draft law has also been rebuked, including by former assistant Interior Minister, Magdy al-Bassiouni, who claimed that criminalisation maintains moral standards, and that decriminalisation would increase the number of people who use drugs. There is, however, no evidence for al-Bassiouni's claims that decriminalisation increases drug use – in fact, research suggests the opposite is true. In Portugal, which decriminalised all personal drug possession 2001, rates of drug use have declined among young people, and rates of past-year and past-month drug use have declined across the population.

The proposal was also misrepresented by several Egyptian news sources, with some portraying John Talaat as advocating drug use. Talaat denounced this coverage in a Facebook post, imploring his followers to understand the true purpose of the draft law.

Talaat announced the draft law in mid-October and began collecting fellow MPs’ signatures for it on October 21. If it garners sufficient support, he hopes for it be considered at some point during Egypt’s current parliamentary session, which is set to last until summer 2019.

This is the second major move towards progressive drug policy reform in the Middle East in recent months; in July, a Lebanese official stated that the Parliament was preparing to "study and adopt the necessary laws to legalise the growth and consumption of hash for medicinal purposes".

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