Cultivation and consumption of cannabis is decriminalised to an extent but lack of guidelines causes rogue social clubs to undermine the success of self-regulated social clubs. The result; an unwarranted arrest of three Pannagh activists.
This paper aims to set out some of the policy and public health issues raised by the appearance of a wide range of emergent psychoactive substances of diverse origin, effect and risk profile (commonly referred to as ‘legal highs’). It will start by considering what is meant by the term ‘legal highs’ and consider the historical context that has framed their appearance and must inform any response. It will then consider some of the approaches that have been adopted by different nations to control their availability and associated harms, including a preliminary assessment of their consequences, both intended and not.
Distinguishing between drug possession for personal use and supply and trafficking is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult and controversial issues facing drug legislators and policy makers.
On June 2, 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy presented its report in New York, calling to break the taboo on debate and reform of international drug control policies. The high-profile panel calls the global war on drugs a failure and recommends a paradigm shift towards harm reduction, decriminalization and legal regulation of cannabis. TNI has been closely involved in the initiative and its Latin American predecessor in an advisory capacity. Martin Jelsma of TNI’s drugs policy programme wrote a background paper for the Commission’s meeting in Geneva earlier this year: The development of international drug control: lessons learned and strategic challenges for the future.
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales initiated a consultation process in order to produce definitive sentencing guidelines for drugs offences for the UK in the future. In order to feed into this process, IDPC, in collaboration with TNI, held an Expert seminar on proportionality in sentencing for drug offences, on 20th May 2011, in London, UK. The seminar was an important gathering of international experts on the subject of proportionality and provided a space for fruitful and in depth discussions on sentencing experiences from around the world. A draft report of the meeting was sent to the Sentencing Council as part of the consultation process on 20th June.
Threshold quantities (TQs) for drug law and policy are being experimented with across many jurisdictions. States seem attracted to their apparent simplicity and use them to determine, for example, whether: a possession or supply offence is made out (e.g. Greece); a matter should be diverted away from the criminal justice system (e.g. Portugal); or a case should fall within a certain sentencing range (e.g. UK).
There has in recent years been a renewed interest in the principle of proportionality in sentencing policy for drug offences. There has been official analysis of the issue by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and several national initiatives that have inscribed a requirement for proportionality when sentencing in statute or penal code, asserted it through the courts, or, as with the UK Consultation on sentencing for drug offences by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales, are continuing to explore the concept through policy processes.
The New Zealand Law Commission was asked to address the efficacy of the Misuse of Drugs Act in reducing the demand for, and supply of, drugs prohibited under the International Drug Conventions. The Commission has recommended the existing Act be repealed and replaced by a new Act administered by the Ministry of Health. Justice Hammond said the thrust of the proposed new Act is to facilitate a more effective interface between the criminal justice and health sectors: “We need to recognise that the abuse of drugs is both a health and a criminal public policy problem.”
In a widely watched You Tube video, U.S. President Barack Obama is asked whether or not the drug war may in fact be counterproductive. Instead of the resounding NO that would have come from any of his recent predecessors, Obama responded: “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” He then qualified his remarks by adding, “I am not in favor of legalization.” Nonetheless, even acknowledging the legitimacy of debate on U.S. drug policy is a significant shift from the past, when successive administrations stifled discussion and routinely labeled anyone promoting alternative approaches to the socalled U.S. “war on drugs” as dangerous and surreptitiously promoting massive drug use and poisoning America’s youth.
The Sentencing Advisory Council has released a report on community attitudes towards the use of alternatives to imprisonment in Victoria. The report is based on the Victorian component of a national survey of public attitudes to sentencing, supported by the Australian Research Council. Survey participants were asked about the use of alternatives to imprisonment as a way of addressing the increasing number of people in prison and as a way of dealing with certain types of offenders. The prison alternatives suggested to participants included supervision, counselling, treatment and community work.
America’s growing reliance on drug courts is an ineffective allocation of scarce state resources. Drug courts can needlessly widen the net of criminal justice involvement, and cannot replace the need for improved treatment services in the community. Of the nearly 8 million people in the U.S. reporting needing treatment for drug use, less than one fourth of people classified with substance abuse or a dependence on drugs and/or alcohol receives treatment, and for those who do receive treatment, over 37 percent are referred by the criminal justice system.
Drug Courts are Not the Answer finds that drug courts are an ineffective and inappropriate response to drug law violations. Many, all the way up to the Obama administration, consider the continued proliferation of drug courts to be a viable solution to the problem of mass arrests and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet this report finds that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not improve public safety, and do not save money when compared to the wholly punitive model they seek to replace. The report calls for reducing the role of the criminal justice system in responding to drug use by expanding demonstrated health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, and by working toward the removal of criminal penalties for drug use.