Decriminalisation in Europe?

Recent developments in legal approaches to drug use
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
European Legal Database on Drugs
November 2001

decrim-europeThis brief report analyses the similarities and differences in legal attitudes to drug use and possession across Europe in light of the recent changes in 2001.

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Concept and Definition of Decriminalisation

Decriminalisation. Decriminalisation takes away the status of criminal law from those acts to which it is applied. This means that certain acts no longer constitute criminal offences. With regard to drugs, it is usually used to refer to demand; acts of acquisition, possession and consumption. Following decriminalisation, it still is illegal to use, possess, acquire or in certain cases import drugs, but those acts are no longer criminal offences. However, administrative sanctions can still be applied; these can be a fine, suspension of the driving or firearms licence, or just a warning. In contrast, legalisation is the process of bringing within the control of the law a specified activity that was previously illegal and prohibited or strictly regulated.

Related to drugs, the term is most commonly applied to acts of supply; production, manufacture or sale for non-medical use. Legalisation would mean that such activities, and use and possession, would be regulated by states’ norms, in the same way that it is legal to use alcohol and tobacco. There can still exist some administrative controls and regulations, which might even be supported by criminal sanctions (e.g. when juveniles or road traffic are concerned). From a legal point of view, any form of legalisation would be contrary to the current UN conventions.