Poland: Change to Drug Law, Change in Policy?

On December 9, 2011, an important change [pl] was introduced to the Polish drug policy: an amendment to the law on illegal drug possession came into force, which would allow prosecutors to abandon initiation of the criminal procedure against those in possesion of drugs. It is to be possible under three conditions: when defendant is in possesion of only a small amount of drugs, when the drug is for personal use only, and when punishing a person in question would be pointless, due to harmless nature of the crime.

The Polish drug law is considered to be one of the most severe in Europe. Possesion of drugs still remains illegal, but from now on it is for a prosecutor in a specific case to decide, whether it is to be treated as an offence or as a misdemeanour. One of the parts of the new amendment, which is surely to be questioned, is the lack of a definition of what “a small amount of drugs” is.

Even though the change in law is small and its influence depends entirely on the prosecutor's interpretation of it, it is a step in the direction recommended by many influential politicians and experts around the world.

In June 2011, a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy called for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users. According to the report, anti-drug policy has failed to achieve its main goal – putting an end to or limiting organised crime. It has costed taxpayers millions of dollars and caused many people to die. In the report, the UN estimates are cited, which state that drug consumption increases every year.

The new law, passed by the parliment in March 2011, caused a heated debate, with 258 deputees in favour of the act and 159 opposing it. The blogosphere was also very fragmented in its evaluation of the parliment's decision.

Blogger mutant12 writes [pl]:

We shouldn't create a myth, claiming that all drugs are similarly dangerous. Decriminalising possesion of marijuana, or even legalising it, won't cause the Polish society to collapse. It won't cause widespread drug addiction. Possibly, more people would dare to use it, but would do so occasionally. I am against legalisation of drugs other than marijuana, though I strongly believe that drug-users should be offered health and treatment services insted of being sent to jail.

Blogger gugulskim doesn't approve of the new act, and being a supporter of the opposition party, blames the ruling one for passing it [pl]:

It all began in the [Sejm], in no time [the Senate ] will join in, and then the President would be given a chance as well [to overrule the act]. Less than a year after [the tragedy in Smolensk], thanks to the elimination of the threat of a veto from the late president [Lech Kaczyński], supporters of the drugs legalisation achieved their first big victory. Which MPs voted for the act, supporting the legalisation of the so-called “light drugs”? […] 100 percent of the opposition voted against it!

On the bangladeszcz blog, where news on the Polish drug policy are published, the editor writes [pl]:

A step towards normalcy! Sejm moderates the drug law!

The most heated debates took place among those who commented on the official online news.

Lech from Boston, USA, writes:

Once again the [Civic Platform-Polish People's Party] coalition shows that it only undertakes legislative actions to harm Poland and the Poles. Don't you see, those back in the country, what these people are doing?!?! These are not innocent children!!! These are people who consequently destroy the Polish sovereignty with unbelievable speed!

Mandark replies [pl]:

This is the best change in the legislation that the ruling party has ever introduced. Unfortunately, we have to admit that those changes are really small. Depenalisation of drug users (as opposed to drug dealers) should be obligatory. A huge mistake was made by turning down the amendment proposed by MP Marek Balicki, which suggested establishing actual limits for the amount of a drug considered as “for personal use.”

LGPhantom adds [pl]:

This amendment doesn't change the situation at all, it doesn't change the Polish drug policy.

Many Twitter users, like @Liroy or @bartoszc, recommended [pl] a YouTube video, where a Harvard economy professor explains why some of the drugs should be decriminalised:

@MamyWas wrote:

[Law and Justice] says that drugs should be illegal, but what is more addictive – marijuana or Law and Justice membership?

It is more than certain that the debate would last for a long time, for the new law is unclear and leaves a lot of space for personal interpretation. But with a loss of about 80 milion zlotych a year [pl] (approx. $23 million; as calculated by the Institute of Public Affairs) on repressions against drug users, and faced with the global crisis, further changes in policy may be just around the corner.

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