So whilst Gordon Brown rules out decriminalising possession of drugs (for ever), and states that he plans to reclassify cannabis before even waiting to hear from his own policy consultation process or the ACMD, the list of more enlightened countries moving in the opposite direction continues to grow...
Drug use debate lights up
By Eva Munková
The Prague Post (Czech Republic)
October 3rd, 2007
Lawmakers are considering lower penalties for small-scale recreational drug growers under a Criminal Code change that decriminalizes recreational drug use.
If the new Criminal Code passes, marijuana growers would face six months in jail if they produce more than an amount deemed to be for their own use. Anyone who makes drugs or possesses them in certain quantities can go to jail for one to five years if caught under the current law.The idea behind the amendment is to separate recreational drug users from “the black market,” says Justice Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Kuncová.
Police officers will still have the same abilities to arrest dealers if the new rules pass, Kuncová says, because the rules related to the criminal manufacture or sale of drugs are essentially unaltered by the code. Under the proposed new rules, penalties would be more lenient for
possession or cultivation of “light” drugs such as marijuana for individual use, but remain strict for possession or sale of hard drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin.
Possession, manufacture, transport or sale of both light and hard drugs would continue to be regarded as a criminal activity, with penalties of up to 15 years in jail if leading to injury or death. This is not the first time lawmakers have addressed the drug penalty issue.
Similar changes were suggested as part of a revised Criminal Code in 2005 under the government of former Prime Minister Stanislav Gross, but legislators shot down the entire package. Lawmakers first made cultivation and possession of any amount of drugs a criminal offense in 1999, said Josef Radimecký, a former member of the government commission
that penned the original amendment.
“The professional public saw this as a step backward from the trend in the European Union, but the politicians saw it otherwise,” Radimecký said. But far from lowering the amount of marijuana found on the streets, the tougher approach seemed to make things worse, according to a government study on the effects of the new policy conducted one year later.
“Small-scale cultivators with so-called wild plots on the edges of fields or forests, whose plants had a far lower THC content, turned to organized dealers, whose products were much stronger,” Radimecký says. “The result was a merger of the light and heavy drug markets.” Based on the study, lawmakers decided to separate drugs into “light” and “hard” categories, leading to proposed amendments.
In trying to lighten penalties for individual use of marijuana, the Czech Republic is joining a broader trend toward decriminalization across Western countries, including the United States.
“Thirty years ago, it was common to find people serving 10- to 25-year sentences for just the possession of a personal amount of marijuana,” said Keith Stroup, Legal Counsel of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), a U.S. marijuana advocacy group.
Not everyone is happy with the proposed changes, however. “When people start using light drugs, they gradually want to try new ones — to seek out new and different experiences,” said Petr Ministr, head of the local branch of Teen Challenge, an international faith-based organization that deals with addiction. “I am firmly convinced that there is a continuum.”
Stroup insists there is no such correlation in users moving from lighter drugs to heavier drugs over time. “When someone buys a bag of marijuana, the guy who’s selling it to him is taking a big felony risk. He’s got an incentive to sell him harder drugs that he makes a higher profit on,” Stroup says. “If you created a legal market for marijuana like you did for alcohol after the prohibition, we would separate it from this black market.”