Home » Side event: ​​Decriminalize drug use and possession for personal use: Why, what, and how?

Side event: ​​Decriminalize drug use and possession for personal use: Why, what, and how?

Organized by the Drug Policy Network South East Europe with the support of Montenegro, Serbia, the Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network, the European Union Civil Society Forum on Drugs, Fédération Addiction, Forum Droghe, the International Drug Policy Consortium, Juventas, the Knowmad Institut, Positive Voice, Prevent and the Villa Maraini Foundation

Katrin Schiffer, C-EHRN: Present scientific and political context of decriminalisation, different models and experiences and practices, and potential implementation challenges. 

Susanna Ronconi, Forum Droghe, Italy —also part of CSFD on Drugs in the EU: It has not being an easy process. The CSFD on Drugs is an expert group of the European Commision. It includes all sides of the debate. Long process to find good negotiations. Decriminalisation is on the political agenda all over the world and in Europe too, of course. Many countries are trying to seek out new approaches to ensure better compliance with human rights as well as effectiveness. Ongoing reform process in many member states of Europe on the decriminalisation perspective. Civil society and community groups have been fighting for it for decades. We thought it’s a matter of political responsibility of a forum that is a civil society led one, so we needed a position. Another factor is the fact that issues of human rights and drug policy have become very relevant over the past years, as we can see in vienna. Many UN agencies explicate the links between criminalisation and human rights violations. Clear recommendations in favour of decriminalisation, as a structural precondition to counter violations. If we can’t consider the structural reasons for human rights violations, we risk a rhetorical discussion. Another important document in this direction by the OHCHR. Three reasons why we discussed inside the forum in favour of the decriminalising perspective: ineffectiveness and negative impact of criminalisation —which does not control supply and demand. Criminalisation doesn’t work. The evidence is clear on this. We have evidence on the so-called unintended side effects on community and society. Failure of deterrence effect. Important debate in criminology in general. Imbalance between costs and benefits. Stigmatisation was also an important part of our discussion. EU strategies talk about the harms of stigma. It’s a complex process, of course. But criminalisation is a strong structural and impactful factor of stigma. Finally, limits of alternatives and administrative sanctions. Alternative and administrative sanctions do not undermine the stigma cycle. Finally, alternative sanctions in many states have a very strong impacts in the lives of people who use drugs too.

Milutin Milosevic, DPNSEE: An enriching and collaborative process. No one is perfectly happy. Everyone had to relinquish something. The final paper is quite okay and appreciated by all, however. Decriminalisation as one of the elements and opportunities to regulate drugs. Difference between decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis. We are focusing on decriminalisation of personal use and possession for personal use. Around 67 jurisdictions in 41 countries had adopted different models. We discussed various models and there were different positions. In terms of activities, drug use and possession for drug use; but also potentially cultivation for personal use, and social sharing which is present in many countries of Europe —larger amounts to share with friends without financial gain. And possession of materials for drug use. The survey showed broad agreement in terms of possession for personal use and use. Cultivation and social sharing didn’t get support from about 30% of respondents. Which drugs? CSFD’s position is about all drugs. But specific circumstances could be taken into consideration per substance. A majority of people supported a no-sanctions model. Access to services on a voluntary basis. Not an impediment to drug supply measures. Expungement of criminal records and reparations measures —470,000 people currently incarcerated for drug use and possession of drugs. Devastating consequences. Important to delete all criminal history when decriminalisation is taken on. A criminal record affects life outcomes. Importance of training and sensitisation —especially authorities involved in the process of implementation. Also general public campaigns for support. Resources redirected from policing towards health, social support… About $100bn expenditure per year on enforcement. A fraction could provide for the world’s harm reduction response for years. Meaningful participation of affected populations: people who use drugs and in recovery should be able to participate. Survey from CSFD members —2/3 of responses. We agreed on certain things. Non-agreement on social sharing, cultivation, sanctioned models, no sanctions, eliminating fines. Good basis for future work. In Serbia, we’re behind. In 2010-221, 69% of processed people were processed for drug use and possession. 30% for production, sale and everything else. The number of people processed for use is growing, actually. We’re currently involved in a process for the amendment of laws.

Augusto Nogueira, ARTM Macau: We’re in this event because we believe in cooperation. We should follow decriminalisation. Drug decriminalisation should be combined with prevention, treatment, recovery. Invest in education for age-appropriate information on the harms and risks of drugs. And considering the vulnerability of children. Otherwise, we’ll end up like countries like the country who started decriminalisation such a while back, where severe consequences are experienced and use of young people increased. Concepts that need to be critically examined: the concept of social sharing. Is it a joint between them? I understand that help is good. The word in the document is too vague. Vague ‘social sharing’ could undermine police control. If decrim is about controlling markets, and generate revenue for services, how can personal cultivation guarantee safety? No one who uses drugs should be sent to prison just for drugs. Decriminalisation should include drug use and possession for personal use. Sanctions and fines should be kept. Prevention should focus on underlying factors affecting drug use. Decriminalisation is public health orientated, reduces criminal justice system burden, promotes harm reduction, fosters better allocation of resources. Decriminalisation as a package with prevention, treatment and recovery.

Croatian Institute of Public Health: In terms of trends, there’s an increase in the prevalence of drugs. Increase in the number of drug seizures over the past decade. Criminal offences remain stable. On drug policy implementation, 100 – 120 million Europe. A new strategic framework is a coherent strategy focusing on alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and behavioural addictions. Balanced principles between reduction of supply and demand. Possession for personal use has been a misdemeanor since 2013. Personal drug use is not punished with jail but treatment. Reduction of cases before criminal courts because possession became misdemeanours. Police can focus on more serious crimes. Decriminalisation can give us an opportunity to deal with serious organised crime. Better efficiency in the allocation of resources. Shorter period between arrest and intervention. No criminal record for the person arrested. Rehabilitation process can start easier. Croatia is a touristic country so most seizures are in touristic areas. The purpose is not punishing people but sending them to treatment. Unfortunately, the first initial contact with the penal system is when the person could go to treatment. Often the main way to refer to treatment. Criminal legislation adopted a positive approach to replacing sentences for people with drug dependence disorders. Treatment is a much more appropriate sentence than prosecution.

Athanasios Theokaris, Greece: OKANA is one of the largest organisations in Greece providing prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. My contribution offers a different perspective. Remarkable advances in Greece towards harm reduction. Sharing these efforts. Saved lives. Paved the way for a more compassionate and effective approach to addressing drug use and addiction. Not just a matter of decriminalisation as a hard way of saying so but a matter of respect and human rights. Naloxone provision, safe consumption rooms —that saves lives. We’ve embraced innovative approaches like low threshold services and mobile services. All of these initiatives have prioritised accessibility to integrate people who are hard to reach and marginalised.

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