New drug guidelines are Europe's most liberal

New drug guidelines are Europe’s most liberal

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Czech rules on narcotics possession designed to aid law enforcement

New drug guidelines are Europe's most liberal

Long known for a liberal policy on drugs, the Czech Republic is now officially quantifying its status as one of European Union’s most lenient member states when it comes to decriminalizing drug possession. But these new guidelines come among signs that the rest of Czech drug policy is not keeping pace with other EU members and contradicts law enforcement tactics being utilized to tackle alcohol abuse.

On Dec. 14, Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s government approved new standardized limits, delineating criminal and misdemeanor drug offenses. Starting Jan. 1, the new numbers will allow a person to possess, for example, up to 15 grams of marijuana or 1.5 grams of heroin without facing criminal charges. Anybody possessing less than these amounts is eligible to be charged for a misdemeanor, but may also receive little more than a warning from police.

“It is a step in a right direction,” said Michal Hammer, spokesman for the National Drug Squad (NPC). “To put it simply, for exceeding these amounts of narcotics possession, one can be prosecuted in Frýdek Místek as well as in Ostrava.”

Authorities are quick to point out that these levels represent not a change in law, but rather a clearer definition for law enforcement, which has previously used the ambiguous term “a small amount” as the dividing line between misdemeanor and felony prosecution. In the Czech Republic, 87 percent of successful prosecutions are tied to cases involving drug sales or production, and only 13 percent are related to possession, according to the NPC.

New guidelines

Starting in 2010, possessing the following amounts of drugs is no longer a criminal offense.

  • Marijuana 15 grams or less
  • Heroin 1.5 grams or less
  • Cocaine 1 gram or less
  • Methamphetamine 2 grams or less
  • Amphetamine 2 grams or less
  • Ecstasy 4 tablets or less
  • Hashish 5 grams or less
  • Hallucinogenic mushrooms 40 pieces or less
  • LSD 5 tablets or less

Lagging in policy

The Czech Republic may be among the most liberal EU member states when it comes to decriminalizing drug possession, but policy on prevention and treatment lags behind others with similar regulations

Total anti-drug expenditure

  • Czech Republic    22.7 million euros
  • The Netherlands    2.2 billion euros

Treatment, counseling, medical expenditure

  • Czech Republic    9.4 million euros
  • The Netherlands    550 million euros

Czech authorities insist their new guidelines fall in step with European norms, but they are in fact much more liberal than policies in most neighboring countries. According to the European Legal Database on Drugs (ELDD), Slovakia defines criminal drug possession as having more than three times a single dose of any substance, putting the Czech regulation of marijuana some 15 times over that threshold. In Hungary, anyone possessing any amount of drugs is eligible for a five-year prison sentence. Those defined as addicts are punished less severely but are still eligible for a one-year prison term for possessing any drugs.

The Czech philosophy on drug policy may in fact make the country the most liberal of all EU member states. Even the Netherlands, long known as a bastion of liberal drug policies, including businesses licensed to sell marijuana, draws a sharper legal distinction between hard and soft drugs. The Dutch also limit decriminalized possession of marijuana to 5 grams (one-third of the Czech amount) and any hard drugs to 0.5 grams (one-third of the Czech amount for heroin).

The logic behind decriminalizing drug possession is to treat drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal one.

“If a person possess drugs for their own use, or is a drug addict and needs his daily dose, the prosecution of such a person does not solve the drug-abuse problem as a whole,” Hammer said.

A shift in policy toward decriminalization is usually accompanied by a shift in resources from law enforcement and courts to drug treatment and counseling, and it is in this area, as well as in the overall resources dedicated to fighting drugs, that the Czech Republic lags far behind its European counterparts with liberalized drug policies.

In 2008, the Czech Republic spent a total of 597.3 million Kč on anti-drug policy with about two-thirds of that money coming from the national government. About 247 million Kč of the total was spent on prevention, addiction treatment and medical care.

The Netherlands spent 2.2 billion euros last year on drug policy, with 25 percent (550 million euros) spent on treatment, prevention and medical care.

While the Netherlands has about one-and-a-half times as many residents as the Czech Republic, a comparison between the two finds that the Dutch spend more than 60 times more money per resident on anti-drug policy (146 euros per person per year in the Netherlands versus 2.2 euros per person per year in the Czech Republic) and 40 times more per person per year on drug treatment and counseling (36 euros per person per year in the Netherlands versus less than 1 euro per person per year in the Czech Republic).

The loose Czech policy on drug possession does not match the philosophy being utilized to combat other substance abuse problems either, raising questions about whether the government is attacking addiction with a coherent policy.

On Dec. 15, the Czech Traffic Police announced they would begin using breathalyzer tests during every traffic stop to combat what they say was a doubling of people driving under the influence compared with last year. The Czech Republic is the only country in Europe test for alcohol on every traffic stop.

“The change in practice only applies to alcohol,” said Veronika Benediktová, a police spokeswoman. “The screening test to detect that a driver is under the influence of drugs will only be applied in cases where the police have suspicions of drug use.”

The new clarification of the drug-possession law is being praised by most experts as a positive step to giving police officers clear, uniform guidelines, but government offices either proved unable or unwilling to provide answers to follow-up questions related to the policy. The Health Ministry declined to provide information about how much is budgeted each year for drug treatment. The Justice Ministry was equally tight lipped, though it did say the policy is scheduled for a review in early 2011.

Even amid signs that the rest of Czech drug policy is not in-step with liberal possession laws, most drug counseling professionals see the emphasis on drugs as a public health problem as a good thing. But, with 44 percent of Czechs between 15 and 24 years old reporting they have used cannabis, and 29 percent of the same group using the drug in the past year – the highest rates in the EU – some remain skeptical whether the policy will make much of a dent.

“It looks more as if it will not have any effect on the drug situation,” said Ivan Douda, a psychologist and co-founder of Drop In, an NGO focused on treating drug problems. “Drug consumers and dealers will most likely adjust.”

And, with new laws decriminalizing marijuana in amounts with a street value of between 3,000 and 4,000 Kč, Douda has another suggestion.

“It would be better to take into account the purpose of drug – possession or production – rather than just the amounts,” he said.

– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.

15 Comments

  1. interesting article. i am now seriously considering a visit to prague. some of the posts on here are very strange and misguided. drug use is largely recreational. most people are not addicts but are in fact functional members of society that party a bit.

  2. Ron Lindholm, your comments are the usual dribble from those that do not understand drugs and believe that laws can prevent drug abuse. As the USA has clearly proven over 7 decades, drug laws do not stop or hinder abuse. Prohibition enriches the criminals that traffic the drugs and creates violence in the uncontrolled market. The drug war is almost as bad as the drug abuse itself, as resources are wasted on interdiction and other law enforcement activities which have been proven futile.

    Education is the only response that prevents abuse. Legalization is the next best step to controlling the problem while taxing the hell out it to pay for the social costs.

    The Czech Republic is struggling with a measured response to the problem and is handling the issue in a responsible manner, far better than the USA.

  3. i going to tell you something about addiction. it is a disease, mental one, and my problem is that I am a addict rehab i don’t know how i became one. i don’t like to drink alchool, but i do it just to be treated. i want to escape from this nightmare. all of you stay strong!!

  4. Ms. Elena Haluschenko’s comments about American “corperate” prisons display an ignorance typical of people who have never been to the US, know little about the US, but as an addict she is probably not totally responsible for her own lack of knowledge or understanding.

    First, as of the end of 2010, less than 5% of the prison population in the US was housed in privately run, or as Ms. Haluschenko would put it, “corperate” facilities. Considering that it costs the state of California (as an example) about $50,000 per year, Ms. Haluschenko would have to be in a marijuana haze to assume that there is a profit motive in putting a person in prison for minor offenses.

    Second, it has been said by many people in the US that the problem is that the DON’T arrest “people for minor drug offenses”. Timothy Lynch, in his book, “After Prohibition: an adult approach to drug policies in the 21st century” argues that locking up buyers would dry up the market. His point is that there are 2 dealers ready to take the place of any 1 that’s arrested, whereas the same is not true of buyers.

  5. My name is Elena Haluschshenko from Prauge and I used to use allot of cocain every day and sleep around with many men, until I ened up in a hospital and got the help I need from the Czech Goverment. I still smoke marajuana but since getting the help I need from the system here I have been in good health and can take care of my family and my mother again. I thank the police who did not arrest me but got me help instead. I like the social system here it is much better than in Ukraina where I am from.Thank you Czech Republic.

    The Czechs are correct in their view unlike americans who”s corperate prisions are over crowded with people for minor drug offenses.Czechs don’t make money by sending people to prision like americans do.They care about treating people and taking care of them not making money off it.

  6. Maria Ana Leny portrays the reality of drug addiction through personal testament which is brave of her. Those who are beyond debate of the reality of addiction just want to stay alive and help others not to make the same mistakes. The need to find help and safety to change is difficult and keeping the desire to be free of addiction is something only an addict knows. Where there is good advice and self help groups is always a good thing, getting rehab is the best if possible. There are no easy solutions; talking to those who broke the cycle of addiction seems best. Keeping a good spirit, whichever a person chooses, helps when the rain falls hard and the stomach is empty. Never quit trying, some day; to be free.

  7. Ron Lindholm, well written and well said. I too was deeply disappointed to read this article. It seems the Czech Government is quite determined to learn the hard way in regard to ‘recreational drugs’, from marijuana up to ecstasy and ice, and God Knows what else. Liberty does not imply the license to do pretty well what one pleases. And you’re right, Western civilisation is threatened with downfall by the official toleration of these substances.

    Frankly, countries such as Singapore have the right approach – zero tolerance, and don’t they police it well.

  8. “Liberal or far right? who who do you think your fooling……”

    A truly puzzling comment.I don’t know who you are “commenting” about but it surely looks like you were-perhaps-on LSD.

  9. Since I don’t live in the Czech Republic, I normally won’t comment on the policy of a foreign government. But since I have a certain affection for the country after many visits and this is an outragous decision, I will make an exception.

    This is probably the most idiotic decision made in the Czech Republic since 1989.

    This is nothing but a surrender to those who want to spread the use of heavy drugs in Europe, the US drug syndicates, the South American drug cartels and Al Quaeeda.

    Instead of showing up an united front against the use of heavy drugs, countries like the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have surrendered to the drug cartels, making their countries a bridgehead for a drug invasion of Europe.

    I’ve seen people ruin their lives with that poison and I’ve seen victims of crime because of that poison so I know what I’m talking about.

    Drugs will lead to the downfall of Western civlization and unfortunately the current Czech government is participarting in that.

  10. “A Briitish citizen faces the death peanalty in China; evidence abounds the man suffers from bi-polar illness.”

    People with bi-polar illness are able to function relatively normally with the right drugs taken.
    Not the drugs you are talking about,though.

  11. The use of viagra and ‘normix’ in large amounts mixed with garlic polevka can cause ‘abnormal nose movements’ do not risk this; trust me.

  12. I am a little confused on the newly enforced law. Does it actually punish a person who possess lesser quantities of heroin or marijuana? well, in that case don’t you think the drug treatment centers across the country should now introduce advance programs that can help in defeating the addiction issues?

  13. As long as the demand for drugs is present there will be drug trafficing! Drinking PIVO is also use of a drug and it is also very legal and very well taxed. To use or not use PIVO or other drugs is the choice of every adult person and making it available to them without legal punishment attached could be a way for the country to gain tax advantages from those who use. I have more than 18 years of knowing the loving the Czech people and I can not imagine taking away PIVO from them! I also know that I have seen very little ‘Trava’ smoked by Czechs in those 18 years. People are prone to abuse anything that helps take away the reality and pain of life here in Planet Earth! For some it is Chocolate , Sex, PIVO or harder drugs while for others it may be reading, music or meditation. Whenever those who deal or sel things can see way to make money then they will do it! You simply can not stop people from wanting to escape from reality and others from making money whilst helping them do it!

    With a great love for The Czech Republic and it’s people ,
    Gerald Scott Flint
    [email protected]

  14. “It would be great addition if they would start to sale these substances as well and tax it, to add some money for drug traffic combat and to make life harder for illegal drug dealers.”

    What do you mean,”drug traffic combat” and “illegal drug dealers” in this context?
    Do you mean that government should produce and/or purchase these drugs and resell them for profit and nobody else could?
    That is called monopoly.

  15. It’s good to see that some country politicians have clear mind, balls and enough intelligence to make right decisions.

    Let’s hope other country’s will fallow soon.

    It would be great addition if they would start to sale these substances as well and tax it, to add some money for drug traffic combat and to make life harder for illegal drug dealers.

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