Across the hemisphere, frustration is grow- ing with the failure of the “war on drugs.” Many Latin American countries face rising rates of drug consumption, despite harsh drug laws that have left prisons bursting at the seams.
Proportionality is one of the key principles of the rule of law aiming to protect people from cruel or inhumane treatment. The principle has been established in international and regional human rights agreements and many countries have adopted reflections of it in their constitution or penal code. Its application to drug-related offences is firstly the responsibility of the legislators, in defining the level of penalisation of certain behaviours.
The academic journal Nueva Sociedad recently released an issue to promote the debate in Latin America on drug policy reform. TNI contributed with the paper "Drug policy reform in practice: Experiences with alternatives in Europe and the US".
This presentation gives a short overview of legislative reforms in Europe and Latin America that provide lessons learned in practice about less punitive approaches intended to reduce drug-related harm to the individual and society. Evidence suggests that fears that softening drug laws and their enforcement would lead to sharp increases in drug use, have proven untrue.
Sentencing for drug offences in England and Wales has recently undergone a wide-sweeping review and public consultation. The purpose of this report is to examine and evaluate this mechanism for law reform, without the need for legislative reform, and to consider the specific discussion around sentencing for drug offences which it has led to.
The sentences that offenders receive for drug law violations across the European Union are examined for the first time in this ‘Selected issue’. By analysing the most recent year’s statistics, this report attempts to answer the question: What is the most likely outcome for an offender after being stopped by police for a drug law offence of use or personal possession, or supply or trafficking?
In determining the seriousness of a drug offence the courts should focus on the quantity of the drug involved (or the scale of the operation) and the role of the offender; the Panel advises a starting point of 12 years custody for the most serious cases. Offences will be aggravated where offenders used a young person as a courier, supplied or offered to supply close to schools, targeted premises used by vulnerable people or supplied to prisoners.
The purpose of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in the United Kingdom was to provide overall structure and clarity to sentencing in England and Wales by reserving prison for the most dangerous offenders, while moving lower level offenders away from short prison sentences into robust and rehabilitative community punishments.
The use of illegal drugs is often associated with a wide range of health, social and community problems, substantial drug-related crime, and stigma and marginalization of people who use drugs. In response, policy-makers have relied heavily on law enforcement, despite evidence that certain law enforcement practices actually worsen the impact of drug use on individuals and communities, and sometimes lead to human rights violations.
This paper discusses the “substance-oriented approach” Dutch authorities implemented to to scare off potential small-scale cocaine smugglers. The focus was on the drugs, rather than the couriers, and on incapacitating the smuggling route, rather than deterrence by incarceration.
In 2007, the Government of New Zealand entrusted an independent agency, the National Law Commission, to review the country’s drug law. The Commission will present a final report which is likely to feature a new approach to personal possession and use of drugs placing less emphasis on conviction and punishment and more on the delivery of effective treatment. New Zealand’s approach to drug law reform may provide lessons for other countries.
This study commissioned by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice underlines the disparity that exists between the depenalization of drug use and the increased penalization of selling drugs that resulted from the 2006 Law on Drugs. Although the fact that the use of drugs is no longer a crime is certainly progress, it seems disproportionate to establish maximum prison sentences of 5 years for the sale of very minor quantities of drugs. The study was a joint project of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, and the University of Brasília UnB that ran from March 2008 and July 2009, supported by the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.
Martin Jelsma, from the Transnational Institute, prepared an analysis for theLatin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, explaining the drug policy situation in the European Union and the current state of debate in the United Nations agenda. The commission is an initiative born of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, from Brazil, César Gaviria, from Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo, from Mexico, to respond to concerns related to the problems of drug consumption and traffic in Latin America. The idea to constitute a commission capable of consolidating a debate concerning this problematic also responds to the necessity of reviewing the world drug policies in the scope of the United Nations, which began in March 2008.
This is the second edition of the IDPC Drug Policy Guide aimed at national government policy makers. This publication is a collaborative effort by a number of members of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and partners, and brings together global evidence and best practices on the design and implementation of drug policies and programmes at national level.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories
06 August 2010
The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug-free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.
By combining drug treatment with ongoing judicial supervision, drug courts seek to break the cycle of addiction, crime, and repeat incarceration. While practice varies widely from state to state (and county to county), the outlines of the drug court model are clear: addicted offenders are linked to treatment; their progress is monitored by a drug court team composed of the judge, attorneys, and program staff; participants engage in direct interaction with the judge, who responds to progress and setbacks with a range of rewards and sanctions; and successful participants generally have the charges against them dismissed or reduced, while those who fail receive jail or prison sentences.
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.
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.
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.
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.