Democracy & Justice

Initiative To Partially Decriminalize Drug Use Gaining Ground In Lithuania

The Lithuanian Parliament on 14 October approved the legal amendments to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs without intent to distribute, making it an offense under the Code of Administrative Offenses instead of the Criminal Code.

by Human Rights Monitoring Institute

In Lithuania, unlawful possession of a small quantity of drugs or psychotropic substances without intent to distribute is punishable by community service, restriction of liberty, a fine, or arrest. According to Morgana Danielė, a member of the parliamentary Freedom Group and the author of the amendments to decriminalize drugs, the punishment provided for in the Criminal Code is disproportionate and criminal liability is not a deterrent to drug use. As such, she proposes to relax the sanctions for this type of action and to encourage addicted people to seek professionals for treatment. However, the parliamentary discussions of the new project revealed that the MPs were divided: some claimed that decriminalization was necessary, while others feared this would, in essence, legalize drug use.

Punishments

What constitutes small, large and very large quantities of narcotic and psychotropic substances for the purposes of the Criminal Code is determined by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania. Currently, what is “small” differs by psychoactive substance. For example, it’s up to 5g for cannabis, up to 0.2g for cocaine, and up to 0.02g for heroin.

The amendments would remove the Criminal Code provision that production, processing, acquisition, possession, transportation, or sending of small quantities of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances is a criminal offense punishable by community service, a fine, or detention. This provision would be moved to the Code of Administrative Offenses and be punishable by fines ranging from €50 to €350 (€300 to 500 for repeat offenses). The Code of Administrative Offenses provides that drug use without a doctor’s prescription is punishable by a fine between €50 and €250 (€200 to €350 for repeat offenses). Repeat offenses may also result in an obligation to participate in preventive, curative, or other behavioral correction programs. At the same time, possession of larger quantities of drugs without intent to distribute would still remain a crime that may warrant up to two years in prison.

Resistance to the bill

During deliberations, the bill to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs attracted some criticism: certain MPs claimed that adopting the amendments would send the message that drugs were just a toy, a way to have fun. According to them, this would lead to increased drug use and more addicts, which would therefore harm not just users but also their loved ones. There were concerns that decriminalization was a step towards the full legalization of drugs, and that attempts to decriminalize the illicit possession, production, acquisition of small quantities of drugs may result in criminals abusing the system. Furthermore, some MPs emphasized that the prevention, treatment, and other behavior correction programs were underfunded, and that this issue should be addressed first, before attempting to abolish criminal liability for those who possessed small quantities of drugs for their own use.

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Bill’s supporters: punishment is not the answer

MPs who expressed support for the amendments to the Criminal Code stressed that it was disproportionate that possession of small quantities of drugs without intent to distribute was punishable by criminal law. When it comes to their citizens, governments must use the powers of the state responsibly, in moderation, without being excessively limiting. It was claimed that criminal liability does not reduce drug use – on the contrary, the use of the strictest form of liability does not motivate changing habits, lowers people's self-esteem, and creates a feeling of shame. Proponents emphasized that people who use drugs, often also suffering from addiction, need professional help, not punishment.

Lithuanian lawyers and doctors point out that drug use falls under personal and public health issues, not criminal law issues – as such, decriminalizing possession of small quantities of drugs is the first step to a solution. They claim that people who were subject to criminal liability face stigma and difficulties when trying to integrate into society, especially when they are sentenced to prison. The need to improve access to treatment and other help for drug addicts was also emphasized.


photo: Pexels.com

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