Europe Mellows Out Over Cannabis

Europe Mellows Out Over Cannabis
Posted by FoM on October 11, 2000 at 16:42:18 PT
By Craig Francis, Writer
Source: CNN Interactive
Many European governments are shifting from harsh soft-drug penalties towards a more tolerant approach to drugs such as cannabis. The most dramatic change in policy is likely to come from Portugal, where hard and soft drugs alike are expected to be decriminalised within weeks. Earlier this month, the Swiss Government came out in favour of legalising cannabis and is expected to put its recommendations to parliament next year. 
The legal framework borrowed from -- and still predominant in -- the U.S. that aimed to prevent soft drug usage through strong criminal deterrents has made way for a system focused on the social and medical implications of regular drug use. As the Conservative opposition in the UK waded into a controversy over plans to introduce a "zero tolerance" policy targeting all drugs users, Portugal, Switzerland and Luxembourg were poised to take lengthy strides in the opposite direction. Wary of the influx of tourists lured to the liberal-minded Netherlands and its cannabis cafes, Switzerland said its proposals would include measures to protect young people and to ensure that the country is not flooded with drug tourists. According to the legal adviser to Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Danilo Ballotta, these measures typify a broader European shift towards a softer legal stance on cannabis usage. "There is a patchwork quilt of policies across Europe but it is fair to say that there is a trend towards a more pragmatic approach to soft drugs that aims to redress the social and medical problems associated with addiction, as opposed to punishing occasional users," Ballotta told "The hard-line approach was borrowed from the U.S. but over the past two decades we have seen European countries beginning to think differently, removing the issue from the criminal domain and looking at it as a medical issue," he said.  The EMCDDA, a European Union drugs research agency, estimates that more than 40 million Europeans have tried cannabis at least once -- on average, one in five 15-16-year-olds and at least one in four 15 to 34-year-olds. "Belgium and France are two more countries that have taken to issuing cautions for first-time cannabis use offenders, perceiving cannabis use as normal or mundane rather than deviant," said Ballotta. The move towards greater tolerance of drugs has not, however, swept through all of Europe. The zero-tolerance policy in place in Sweden has broad cross-party political support. Voices arguing for the legalisation of marijuana are limited to non-parliamentary groups, with their debating forum centring around underground graffiti in the major cities. Huge Demand:An EMCDDA report on pan-European drug usage stated that the softly-softly approach towards cannabis was largely a response to huge supply and demand, with even hard drugs such as heroin being "ordered as easily as pizza." While the EMCDDA does not draw conclusions about the effectiveness of different government policies, there appears little correlation between the severity of legal penalties and frequency of drug use. Cannabis use rose in most EU countries throughout the 1990s, levelling out in latter years among high-use nations and increasing more sharply in low-prevalence countries. Three countries with the strictest rules in the EU -- Sweden, Finland and Greece -- have had markedly different results in the battle against drugs. Drug use is relatively low in the Scandinavian countries whereas Greece is confronting high levels of heroin addiction. When it comes to schoolchildren, the results are similarly unpredictable in terms of the law acting as a deterrent to drug use. In Portugal and Finland, with their respective open and zero-tolerance policies, lifetime use of cannabis among 15 to 16-year-olds is comparable at about five percent. In the moderately strict Ireland and the UK, where subsequent offenders can expect to attract a fine, far more young people -- 40 percent -- develop cannabis habits. According to Ballotta, the law is far more likely to punish people according to specific local attitudes, rather than broader national laws. "There are not just two sides to the legal debate, there are many sides. Generally, a person from a rural community is much more likely to incur a stronger penalty than a person on a similar charge in the city - where soft drugs are usually not as high profile a problem," he said. Invariably, the wording of anti-cannabis law is more threatening than the reality at street level. Cannabis-related offences are often punishable by prison sentences or hefty fines but these punishments are rarely meted out by the courts -- if they reach the courtroom at all. Swedish pot-smokers are theoretically liable to jail sentences of up to six months for minor possession offences. More usual is a small fine, which itself is not payable if the offender decides to undertake counselling. The UK's laws are more draconian, with possession of small quantities of marijuana punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. But offences relating to cannabis possession are routinely dismissed with a caution, or at the most a small fine. London, England (CNN)Source: (US Web)Author: Craig Francis, WriterPublished: October 11, 2000Copyright: 2000 Cable News Network, Inc.Contact: cnn.comFeedback: Video(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media) California County's Voters Ready to OK Homegrown Pot: Articles:Campaign To Legalize Marijuana Use in Britain Legalises Drug Use
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Comment #3 posted by Lehder on October 12, 2000 at 07:22:10 PT
Let's go communist, too.
We could end up like Cuba or North Korea: isolated, deranged, despised. For the children.
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Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on October 12, 2000 at 06:51:30 PT:
Treaty Obligations
Eric Goode, in his book, The Marihuana Smokers, gave a convincing argument that the Single Convention Treaty, which is often offered as a reason that we cannot pursue medical marijuana, in fact does not contravene such policy. I have also heard arguments that it proscribes hashish without specifying herbal cannabis. I wanted to find out, but the UN charges $86 or something exorbitant for the document.
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on October 12, 2000 at 06:13:59 PT:
For decades, the Bellus Americana (as opposed to the supposed "Pax Americana"), namely, the DrugWar, has rode herd over a lot of our relations with other nations. The US Government has browbeaten, cajoled, threatened, even invaded (with the inevitable loss of life that encurs; we still don't have a full accounting of the 'butcher's bill' in Panama)other nations over the matter.But it seems the nations of the world who have been on the receiving end of this treatment have had enough. They are doing, singly and together, what we here at this forum are seeking to do domestically. Namely, force and end to this madness, not through bullets, but ballots.As is obvious, for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. The problem in this case is simply that there's a lot of inertia to be overcome. Uncle Sam led the purblind proslytizing that which led to the early thrust for international drug legislation. It's taken years, but the international reaction from this has been slow in flowing back. But this has allowed to to gain the *force* it has.It is interesting to note that it was the presence of international drug treaties (pushed for by a crusading Uncle Sam) which provided the justification for Congress to approve what were essentially unConstitutional laws; it may interest you to know, that despite popular misconceptions, INTERNATIONAL LAWS SUCH AS TREATIES *TRUMP* EVEN THE CONSTITUTION. Shocking thought, isn't it? *This* is why George Washington wanted us to steer clear of 'foreign entanglements'.So now, other nations who have long chafed under these treaties, are reconsidering. And are, in effect, rendering them null-and-void. A major brick, a very very large chunk indeed, is about to quietly pop out of the Drug War foundation. Because when those whose agreement was necessary to maintain the fiction of international accord start speaking *against* the treaties and begin revoking them, the justification for continuing the DrugWar at home suffers a major setback.I once noted that the farther you are geographically from Washington DC, the saner the drug laws become. The populations of other nations have an advantage that we here will not enjoy, as we are literally a**hole-to-bellybutton with The Beast. But when the other nations dragooned by the US into its' mad scheme defect from the DrugWar camp, as many have already done, a few more teeth fall from the Beasts' mouth, and a few more nails pop off of its' claws.We are winning, friends, we really are. Hunker down, keep plugging away at the antis, and, as the Vietnam POWs used to say to each other, 'keep the faith'.We're getting there.
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