During the reporting period several countries also made changes in their drug legislation to the penalties that can be imposed for various offences, besides those reviewed above and that specifically involve young people. For example, it was reported last year that Belgium and the United Kingdom effectively lowered the penalty for non-problematic cannabis possession. In Belgium, a new directive issued in February 2005 clarified the exceptions to this reduced penalty, calling for full prosecution in cases involving ‘disturbance of public order’. This includes possession of cannabis in or near places where schoolchildren might gather (schools, parks, bus stops) and also ‘blatant’ possession in a public place or building. In Denmark, a May 2004 amendment to the Euphoriant Substances Act, together with a public prosecutor’s circular, stated that the possession of drugs for own use will now normally be punishable by a fine rather than the warnings issued previously.

These follow the pattern of changes to possible penalties for users and traffickers that has emerged over the last few years, as reported by the EMCDDA (19). For example, in 2003 Belgium created a new category of offence that allows non-problematic cannabis users not to be prosecuted, Greece reduced the maximum penalty for drug use from five years to one year, and Hungary removed the offence of drug use from its penal code. In 2002, Estonia removed the offence of repeated use or possession of a small amount of illicit drug for personal use (with its associated maximum three-year prison sentence), although Lithuania added the offence of possession to its penal code, with a potential punishment of imprisonment for up to two years. In 2001, Luxembourg decriminalised cannabis use and removed the associated prison sentence for simple cannabis use not associated with aggravating circumstances, and Finland enacted the drug user offence, with a lower maximum sentence of imprisonment and summary penal proceedings by the prosecutor. In 2000, Portugal enacted administrative sanctions for drug use, though in the same year Poland removed the exemption from punishment previously possible for the offence of possession. This pattern does not, however, reflect a lessening of control over the effects of drug use on society, as can be seen in the selected issue on public nuisance and the restrictions on possession near young people, above.

For those suspected of trafficking, the trend is to increase the possible penalty. In Denmark, the maximum penalties for trafficking offences were raised by over 50 % in March 2004. At the beginning of 2004, Estonia enacted stricter penalties with respect to most drug-related crimes, particularly in the presence of aggravating circumstances. In the United Kingdom, the maximum penalty for trafficking class C drugs has increased from five to 14 years’ imprisonment. In addition, recent years have seen an increased emphasis on sentences for the specific offences of distributing to young people (above) and for trafficking offences in Greece in 2001, in Lithuania in 2000 and in Ireland in 1999. This unanimous growth in the severity of penalties for drug trafficking is reflected in the European framework decision of October 2004, laying down minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking.

(19) For further details see EMCDDA thematic paper Illicit drug use in the EU: legislative approaches.