Malaysia wants to introduce a law to decriminalise the possession and use of small quantities of illicit drugs, its home affairs minister said on Monday, citing a need to reduce prison overcrowding.
The move is the latest in a series of criminal justice reforms pursued by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's government, which this year abolished the mandatory death penalty and natural-life prison terms, and said it would seek to decriminalise suicide attempts.
Malaysia, like many of its Southeast Asian neighbours, has harsh penalties for drug crimes. Under reforms passed last month, it retained the death penalty for drug trafficking but said it will no longer be mandatory, with judges allowed to decide whether or not to impose the sentence on convicted offenders.
Under the proposed law, those found with small quantities of illegal substances will not be prosecuted but instead sent to drug rehabilitation centres for treatment, Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution told reporters.
"For those found with small amounts of drugs, whether it was for possession or use, the idea is not to consider the act as a regular drug-related offence," he said.
A proposal on the new law is expected to be presented to cabinet in July for approval, Saifuddin said. If approved, a draft bill will be tabled in parliament within the year, he added.
Malaysia is considered a key transit point for illegal narcotics. The police said nearly 29,000 people were arrested in 2022 for various drug offences, the bulk of whom were addicts.