Skip to main content

Poland Approves Drug Decriminalization -- Sort Of [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #687)
Drug War Issues

With President Bronislaw Komorwski signing into law late last month an amendment to the country's harsh, decade-old drug laws, Poland has taken a step in the direction of the decriminalization of drug possession. But how much of a difference the new law will make is unclear at this point, and it won't go into effect for another six months. The new law also increases sentences for some drug distribution offenses.

21st Century Warsaw. Now, if Poland can just move its drug laws into the 21st Century. (Image via
Under the old law, possession of even the smallest quantity of illegal drugs could lead to a three-year prison sentence. Under the amended drug law, people would still be arrested, but prosecutors will have the option of not charging people for personal drug possession if the quantity involved is small, if it is a first offense, or if the person is drug dependent.

It is one thing to have the law on the books, but whether prosecutors will take advantage of it remains to be seen. The experience in other European countries that have enacted similar laws suggests that they will have to be prodded.

Also unclear at this point is just what will constitute a "small" amount of drugs for personal use. That is an issue that is now being contested. In a sign of how volatile the issue is, demonstrators demanding a 30 gram figure for marijuana, the ability to grow at home, and amnesty for pot prisoners, clashed last weekend with police in Warsaw just days after the president signed the new law. Nearly 30 people were arrested on drug charges, and police were attacked with eggs and empty beer bottles.

The protest was called by the Free Hemp Initiative, and police estimated some 6,000 people attended. Demonstrators shouted slogans and waved banners with exhortations such as "Plant It, Smoke It, Legalize It!" on them. Organizers managed to cool down the crowd after the violence broke out by reminding people of their nonviolent stance.

Activists are planning to both push prosecutors to use the new law and to try to open up discussion around the personal use threshold in a bit to push further in the direction of real decriminalization.

Polish and international experts cautioned about making too much of the reform. "While this is only a small change, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction," said the International Drug Policy Consortium.

The reform "seems quite modest and even marginal," Dr Mateusz Klinowski, Chair of Legal Theory at the Jagiellonian University's Department of Law and Administration, told the Krakow Post. "Though the amendment doesn't seem to be a major breakthrough, at least it creates hope of future reforms," he added. "The first step has been taken and now it is public opinion and non-governmental organizations which have to advocate rational solutions and efficient law that will be aimed primarily at prevention and treatment, rather than at penalizing possession."

In  commenting on the new law, Justice Minister Krysztof Kwiatkowski demonstrated that the old mentality or at least the old politics is still strong in the halls of power. While he confirmed that prosecutors must now investigate each drug possession case to see if it qualifies for dismissal, his rhetoric was that of prohibition.

"We have increased the criminal responsibility for those who sell death, in order to provide for more effective prosecution," he said. "Police should concentrate on the pursuit of drug dealers and not drug addicts. We should focus on providing treatment for such people."

Even this limited progress on reforming Poland's drug laws came only after years of delay. A team of experts appointed by the former justice minister had drawn up the amendments more than two years ago.

Polish politicians were also the object of a concerted civil society campaign to liberalize the drug laws. Celebrity chef Robert Maklowicz created a Facebook video, Cook Our Children a Better Future, arguing for reform, while at the same time, 71 Polish artists sent an open letter to the Sejm seeking a review of Polish drug policy.

Former Polish president Aleksander Kwa?niewski, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, and renowned international human rights expert Wiktor Osiaty?ski also joined the fray, signing a January open letter coordinated by Krytyka Polityczna, an influential group of liberal thinkers. Over 100 organizations from Poland and worldwide recently signed a petition coordinated by the Polish Drug Policy Network. A video by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union was viewed by nearly 50,000 people.

While for many advocates the reforms don't go far enough, they are at least a step in the right direction. Now it will be up to activists and civil society to continue prodding politicians to keep moving toward more civilized drug policies.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Phanes (not verified)

Treatment is better than jail time or fines, but it still assumes that social engineering has reached its perfected finality and people who use drugs are somehow defective.  It completely ignores the fact that the use of a drug is just an action taken to improve and expand what the person wants in life.  Also, "going after drug dealers" is still not the right thing to do.  Decriminalization is better than criminalization, but until we have full legalization, prohibition-related violence will not be greatly affected.

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 12:41am Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

As usual, the authorities are confusing cannabis with alcohol. History will judge them for their promotion of alcohol related and black market related violence, and their bigotry against peaceful cannabis users.

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 7:50am Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

Nicotine $igarette addiction is worse in Europe than in the US, and worse in eastern Europe than in the west.  It is imbedded in the "culture" and one reason for it is the "tradition" of mixing cannabis and tobacco together in a joint.  Historically this may be based on the former prevalence of hashish, and efforts to get the hashish started burning by placing it among cigarette tobacco.

Up till now there has been a pictorial guide on cannabis-related articles on the Polish Wikipedia showing how to roll a lot of brown stuff (tobacco) together with a little bit of green stuff (marijuana) .  ("How-to" guides are usually discouraged on Wikipedia but this just shows how much clout the Nicotine $igarette industry has worldwide, they can get away with anything.)  There is an alternative picture, showing a joint being rolled with ONLY green stuff, which could be substituted but the public library IP in my city is banned from editing on Polish WP due to journalism so I haven't gotten around to it.  Please everybody, go study the tutorials, learn how to edit Wikipedia, and take out that "mixuse" photo before it kills 100,000 more Polish "smokers".

There is an Australian Department of Health report comparing cannabis to a "Trojan Horse" because of "the prevailing practice of mixing cannabis with tobacco which can lead to unintended nicotine addiction."  Two weeks ago an editor DELETED a reference, with that quote, from the English-language Wikipedia "Hashish" article (which gets 6000 hits a day); I have restored it.  The very same week appeared the World Health Organization news release saying the death toll from "tobacco" (almost entirely from hot burning overdose $igarettes" will reach 6,000,000 this year-- ding dong, everybody, HOLOCAUST TIME, that's 6 million PER YEAR!!  Now do the math: if "mixing cannabis with tobacco" led to 1% of all the $igarette addictions of the last half century (I think it's actually more) THAT'S 60,000 A YEAR. Ratko Mladic is on trial for 8300 alleged murders...  Will it be remembered that Wikipedia-- or DRCNet-- stood by while this was happening?

Sat, 06/11/2011 - 1:24pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.