New national laws

Young people  |  Harm reduction  |  Penalties  |  Drugs in the workplace

Young people

Changes in the national legislation of several Member States during the reporting period included measures to protect young people from offenders or to respond to the possibility that they might wish to take drugs.

Protection may be delivered by direct or more general approaches. In Hungary, the March 2003 law aims to protect persons under the age of 18 against misuse of narcotic drugs, and punishments for adults will be more severe for offences involving minors. In Estonia, amendments at the beginning of 2004 provide stricter penalties with respect to most drug-related crimes, including inducing minors to consume drugs illegally.

In Denmark the Euphoriants Act was amended in July 2004; the distribution of drugs in restaurants, discotheques or similar places frequented by children or young people is now deemed to be a significantly aggravating circumstance. Such offences should always be punished with a prison sentence, and it is intended that the average prison sentence for such offences will be increased by one-third. Similarly, in Spain, since October 2004 trafficking near schools is an aggravating circumstance, and, in addition, the age limit for a ‘young person’ enlisted to commit trafficking offences has been increased from 16 to 18. Direction on the new legislation in England and Wales has been issued through the Cannabis Enforcement Guidance (ACPO, 2003), which gives advice on how to deal with people found in possession of cannabis in or near premises such as schools, youth clubs and play areas.

Measures in response to young people taking drugs included two cabinet regulations adopted in Latvia in December 2003. One outlined procedures for the obligatory institutional treatment (with parental consent) of children caught misusing drugs and the other specified actions to be taken when drugs or other intoxicants are found in a school. In England and Wales people under 18 years old arrested for cannabis offences continue to receive a reprimand or final warning or are charged by the police, depending on the seriousness of the offence. After a final warning, the young offender will be referred to a youth offending team (YOT), which will make arrangements for treatment or other support.

In the Czech Republic, the Act on Juvenile Justice, which took effect in 2004, modifies the conditions governing young people involved in penal code offences, which take precedence over general laws. Penal measures should be imposed only when necessary, and educational measures may include prohibition of substance use or an obligation to undergo treatment. The maximum limits for non-custodial sentences also are now half those applying to adults. In Poland, a ministerial regulation of January 2003 establishes specific forms of educational and preventative activities among drug-endangered children and youths. Schools must put in place educational and preventative strategies.

In October 2003, the European Legal Database on Drugs (ELDD) published a comparative study on the laws regarding drugs and young people (15), which formed the basis for a paper assisting the Commission’s evaluation of the EU Action Plan 2000–04, published in October 2004 (16). The latter found that a total of 22 laws, passed by 11 Member States (out of 15), addressed the issues in the action plan concerning young people. The majority of the laws aimed to provide alternatives to imprisonment, though six countries passed laws intended to reduce the prevalence of drug use, particularly among young people. Overall, however, comparatively little original legislative attention seems to have been given to those points of the action plan over the five-year period. For an in-depth analysis of measures targeting young drug-using offenders see the selected issue on alternatives to imprisonment.

(15Young people and drugs: a legal overview.

(16Drug law and young people 2000–2004.