Debates in national parliaments and media

Societal concerns about the drug phenomenon are reflected both in the media and in parliamentary debates. During the reporting period, among the data on parliamentary debates provided in the Reitox national reports, the most reported subjects were ‘harm reduction’ or interventions that fall under this category, ‘cannabis use’ and ‘drug-related crime and related modifications of drugs laws’.

The advantages and disadvantages of substitution therapies and harm reduction measures compared with drug-free approaches stimulated animated parliamentary debates in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland and Norway. Subjects of heated political debate included the proposal to make the syringe exchange programme permanent in Sweden, even though it would be under strictly controlled conditions, and the temporary establishment of injecting rooms in Norway (see the selected issue on national laws and public nuisance).

Cannabis remained an important topic of debate, particularly in Germany, where the main focus was on cannabis use by young people, and in Luxembourg and Portugal, where it has been proposed that it should be made available on medical prescription. The use of cannabis, or more generally drug use in school and by young people, was widely reported by the media in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Austria. In the Netherlands, media attention was attracted by the reported increase in the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of cannabis cultivations (‘nederwiet’) and the possible health consequences of highly potent cannabis. In Poland, cannabis was the most reported substance in the media, accounting for 865 of a total of about 2 500 references to drugs. Bills advocating its legalisation were presented in Belgium, Denmark and in some city councils in the Netherlands (with the aim of solving the ‘back door problem’ (8)), provoking strong and public opposition from most members of parliament and government ministers.

The prospect of changes in the drug laws has attracted media attention and generated political debate in France and Italy. In France, a proposal to replace prison sentences for drug use with fines was abandoned because of concerns that such a change would be ‘interpreted as a sign that drugs are not very dangerous’ and lead to 'a new increase in use and use at an earlier age’ (9). In Italy the media echoed the vigorous parliamentary debate on changes to the 1990 law and a differentiation in sanctions for possession of drugs attracted media and political attention in the Czech Republic.

Ad hoc research to analyse media messages has been undertaken in the Czech Republic, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal, and national media campaigns targeted at young people in particular have been developed in Belgium (10), Poland and the United Kingdom (11).

(8) Coffee shops can hold stock of up to 500 g of cannabis for sale but they can only acquire it through illegal markets. This is the so-called ‘back door problem’.

(9) MILDT (2004), p. 43, cited in the French national report.


(11) The ‘Talk to Frank’ campaign on the risks of cannabis use.