Side event: Decriminalising drug use and possession: A cross-national perspective on lessons learned and best practices

Organized by the Government of Czechia, the Drug Policy Alliance, Release, and the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy.

Niamh Eastwood (Release) (UK): The UN estimates that 83% of prosecutions is for personal use. punitive drug policies are ineffective. Home office report concluded that tough sanctions are not a deterrent but in fact cause significant harm to individuals welfare and is very costly for governments. Millions across the world consume drugs, yet law enforcement isn’t equally applied and POC and the most vulnerable are most detrimentally affected. Black people are 9x more likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts and this is echoed across the world. It is welcomed that the chief exec board have called on member states to end sanctions for personal use. estimated that 30 countries have ended sanctions for personal use. decriminalisation is not the lowering of criminal penalties or drug courts – it is not a new option, spain has had decriminalisation laws for over 30 years. In our report, we looked at 25 countries with decriminalisation laws and non saw any significant increases in consumption of drugs. It can reduce the burden or law enforcement and state budgets. If someone uses drugs in a private space should that allow the government to intervene?

Caitlin Hughes (National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (AUS): There are 100’s of studies pertaining to decriminalisation – like all studies some are poor and less rigorous and some hold much more evidence. There is more evidence on some countries and regions than others. policy makers often concerned that decrim will lead to more use – the evidence shows that there is no correlation between laws and prevalence. a study of cannabis use across 38 countries – It found that countries with liberalised drugs laws leads to no increase in use. Decrim does however, lead to significant reductions in drug-related harms ( .overdose, HIV, Injecting and increase in help seeking behaviour). When well implemented the number of convictions is significantly reduced and there’s an increase in targeting more serious crimes. Portugal saw an 18% reduction in social cost. Unintended effects?  Increased sentencing for micro-trafficker, Justice by geography – some areas crack down more than others. Best practice approach is decriminalisation of all illicit drugs, eligibility criteria is also an important factor (threshold quantities, limits on programmes) what are the attitudes within the criminal justice system – do they support or oppose it? Decriminalisation with civil penalties – AUS, USA< Jamaica – risks widening the “net” but can increase monetary revenues – Decrim with no response (…) decrim of drug possession can lead to significant public health improvements criminal justice, social and economic benefits also. Investment in treatment and harm reduction plans should be brought in along with decriminalisation.

National Monitoring centre for drugs and addiction (CZK): In Czech Republic, harm reduction is one of the four drug policy pillars, civil organisations are part of the key drug policy coordinating structures. We have lol levels of drug related harms and high levels of recreational use. Our decriminalisation model has run for almost 30 years – 5-10 doses and up to 5 plants allowed, since 2010 cannabis sanctions became lower than other drugs. 1999 allowed 0.5g of heroin now it is 1.5g. Maximum fine for cannabis possession is €580. Lowest rate of use offences in Europe. 70% of high risk drug users are in contact with drug services and new cases of HIV are less than 1% a year (0.4%).

Dagfinn Hessen Paust (Norwegian Association for Safer Drug Policies) (Norway): The mainstream view of criminalising drug uses has gone from a necessary to unnecessary evil. in 2014 there was a huge uptake in MDMA and psychedelic use and sparked a debate whether we should criminalise drug use at all. PMAA epidemic in Norway led to 30 deaths (fake MDMA) showing how drug laws harmed our population, new NGOs were formed and a new and stronger civil society was formed calling for decrim and better laws. The arguments that have worked have been result and evidence oriented – shows criminalisation is not necessary, there’s been a war on facts due to this and cherry-picking. the anti-reform movement has abandoned the idea that the law is working and pushing the idea of increased drug use amongst youth. I think we are moving in the right direction in Norway.

Theshia Naidoo (Drug Policy Alliance) (USA): who are the decision makers in decriminalisation and who defines it, and what should be the appropriate response with someone who is caught in possession? Some jurisdictions use a threshold model – In Mexico possession thresholds were so low that they had a real problem with net-widening and actually more people were criminalised for minor trafficking offences. There’s also case-by-case approaches where individual officers can decide at the time – threshold approach is much more clear cut. Critical to have proportionality when it comes to drug laws. The reality is police officers are the front line of drug control, the decision to arrest for drug offences should always be backed up by a third party. Decriminalisation should be an attempt to shift the issue to a health rather than criminal issue. Prosecutors should be able to exercise discretion straight away and should be checks at every level to make sure charges are not held to people unfairly. Drug-use is chronic relapsing condition and individuals shouldn’t be constantly cycled through this system. We must be extremely careful of net-widening as it can lead to more damage.

Hannah Hetzer (Drug Policy Alliance) (USA) (Chair): Any questions?

Q. are we going to see increases in teenage use if they believe they wont get charged?  wouldnt regulation be safer as they do not have to take part in the illicit market? 

A.(CZK) – our model of decriminalisation for personal use and personal cultivation has led to a decrease in use and we keep finding that decriminalisation does not have a direct link to consumption levels anyway.

A. (Norway) – our teen drug use has gone up but we cannot link it to decriminalisation laws and to answer the regulation question, cannabis clubs have been operating for quite a while throughout the

Q. are there any models where they’ve decriminalised small scale trafficking – sale to friends etc?

A. (CZK) – we have decriminalised personal use and allow up to 5 plants – if you have plants you have to harvest and will have more than the threshold allowed here, so you if you process this you can receive a penalty still – which is rather backwards.

 

 

 

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