Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Nicholas Dorn[4]

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 punishable—by 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 on use?

  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 drug conventions

  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 penalties.

  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 crime, etc).

  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.

December 2001

4   Nicholas Dorn PhD is Director of International and Policy Research at DrugScope ("informing policy, reducing risk" 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

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