Andreas Nathaniel Marbun

Depok, West Java

Many people think drug users are victims, not perpetrators. They assume the best action is rehabilitation, and imprisonment is not needed. In fact, rampant drug smuggling cannot be separated from the huge demand from buyers and users of narcotics. Consequently, drug use breeds drug traders. So, is it appropriate to grant the gift of being pardoned from punishment?

On the other hand, although the role of drug users is important in illicit drug trafficking, it is naive to categorize them as criminal offenders like killers or thieves. There are many factors that make people use drugs, from easy access to buying drugs, to low education levels in society, high unemployment rates, hedonistic lifestyles and individual problems like depression, broken homes, etc. However, is it beneficial if we jail drug users?

In fact, imprisonment does not stop drug circulation. There is abundant evidence to show that whenever officials make unannounced visits to jails, they often find inmates in possession of drugs. Thus, the government’s actions to imprison drug users by using the state budget are tantamount to feeding and sheltering drug users free of charge, while they remain able to access narcotics in prison.

Imprisonment is a waste of money. According to data from May collected by the Law and Human Rights Ministry, there were more than 13,000 drug users housed in prisons throughout Indonesia. If the living cost of every inmate each day is at least Rp 30,000, then the total daily cost for all inmates could reach more than 390 million. What about in a year? Feel free to calculate it by yourself.

The provision of rehabilitative measures designed exclusively for users may also be unwise. Users who enroll in rehabilitation programs are not necessarily guaranteed to stop using drugs. The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has admitted that 80 percent of drug users who have been rehabilitated return to using drugs in an immediate period of time.

The purpose of rehabilitation to make users stop using drugs is a mere fairytale. The state has spent a lot of money on rehabilitation program, but the results are ineffective. Furthermore, we should not forget the important role that drug users play in making drug dealers wealthier and increasing their sales due to high demand.

There are three actions that can solve these problems. The first is that we are still in need of rehabilitative actions to reduce demand for drugs. However, in order to reduce state budget usage, the government must regulate punishment with fines. The amount of fines must not only be determined by abstract and assumptive calculations, but must consider the scale of each users’ addiction and the wealth of the offender. The state can allocate most of the fines to rehabilitation programs, prevention, education and antidrug efforts, and to subsidizing fines for drug users of low economic background.

Drug users from low to middle income groups should not necessarily be exempted from fines. However, if they cannot afford to pay, they could be subjected to social work. When fines are substituted with imprisonment or confinement, as regulated by present legislation, the results are the same as explained before.

If the government succeeds in reducing the number of drug users, then dealers will end bankrupt and cease operations. Conversely, drug dealers will continue to exist anytime and anywhere that there is high demand for drugs, although the state may threaten them with the death penalty. The failure of the government to tackle the widespread distribution of drugs is caused by its inability to reduce the demand and implementing the wrong treatment and punishment for drug users.

The writer is a researcher at the Indonesian Judicial Monitoring Society of the University of Indonesia’s School of Law.

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