Memorandum submitted by Dr Nicholas Dorn
Comparative legal research on European drug laws
There is quite strong convergence on anti-trafficking
laws within Europe (though agreement on minimum penalties throughout
the EU not yet achieved).
As for the legal status of use/possession, it
is prohibited throughout the EU, but variously punishableby
criminal law, by administrative (civil) law, or not at all.
Our study "Regulating European Drug Problems",
published in 1999, suggested that administrative/civil sanctions
could be applied in the UK (alternative to criminal law).
The relationship between the form of law (criminal,
civil, etc) and the intensity of its application in practice is
not yet fully understood (EMCDDA study for March 2002).
Questions about apparent lack of relationship
between drug legislation and drug prevalence
The few studies comparing countries' drug laws
and levels of drug problems find no apparent relationship (eg,
McCroun and Reuter, 2001, Cambridge University Press).
This may be partly because these studies look
primarily at over-use of drugs and not at harm (infections, deaths,
habitual or other heavy use, social exclusion, community harms...).
Maybe laws and other aspects of policies impact more on harm than
It could also be the case that the level of
drug supply to a country is important and that supply may be influenced
more by geo-political and cultural trends than by drug legislation
(anyway legislation re supply is already convergent).
It could also partly reflect a possible tendency
for policy impacts to come more strongly from how laws are implemented,
than from their formal enunciation.
Legal research on "room for manoeuvre"
for national drug legislation in the context of the international
This 2001-published study looked at Spain, Italy,
Germany, Netherlands and Sweden and asked how each square their
laws with the UN conventions (1961, 1971 and 1988).
The "room for manoeuvre" depends not
only on the words in the conventions (eg, "criminal law"
in 1988 convention) but also on how a country's constitutional
and legal systems interpret and implement the objective.
Hence for example, Italy decriminalised possession
and so did Spain (Spain does not sanction private use at all),
whilst the Netherlands kept its law on criminalisation of possession
but issued prosecutorial guidance generally not to apply it.
Certainly there is no legal impediment under
the conventions to the UK having criminal law on (eg cannabis)
and either not apply it or add, as an alternative disposal, civil
Parallel possibilities arise in relation to
cultivation for personal use.
Drug trafficking issues including vital aspects
of the development agenda for Afghanistan
More clarity needed on effectiveness of anti-trafficking
work. Drug Strategy research is in train, seeking to understand
effectiveness of interventions in terms of (i) prevention of opportunity,
(ii) disruption of organisations and (iii) increases in price.
As well as looking at impacts of intervention
that bear on availability of drugs, it may be helpful also to
look for evidence of reductions in trafficking-related harm (violence,
capability to corrupt, linkage to other forms of serious and organised
Engagement with international and development
aspects of drug policy is inescapable. For example in Afghanistan
the following elements are necessary: access by the poor to money
lenders who are not opium traders; access by women to waged work
so they are not left as "free" labour for family poppy
cultivation; generally, labour-intensive reconstruction and development
work in order to provide alternatives to poppy cultivation.
4 Nicholas Dorn PhD is Director of International and
Policy Research at DrugScope ("informing policy, reducing
risk" www.drugscope.org.uk). A criminologist, he coordinates
comparative legal research on drug legislation, carries out research
on drug tafficking and orgainsed crime and leads DrugScope's work
as the UK Focal Point for the European Drug Monitoring Centre
on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EU body). Back