drug prohibitionCzech Republic: Prague has looked to Amsterdam for help in the formulation of a new drugs policy, seeing the Dutch example as both liberal and pragmatic. A 1992 opinion poll showed half of the population to be in favour of drugs on prescription. At the time of writing this article the revised national policies were being formulated.

Austria and France: The Austrian and French solution to treatment of drug users is primarily psychotherapy, the underlying assumption being that someone who uses drugs is not coping and needs help. While France is an outspoken adversary of Holland’s tolerance of cannabis, there is, however, little chance that someone whose only crime was that of smoking a joint would find themselves on the psychiatrist’s couch in France, let alone in prison.

In Austria there is debate about the discrepancy between the laws about soft drugs and how these are put into practise. Anyone caught with a few grams of hash is given a compulsory consultation with a therapist, but is free to leave when the hour is up, unlike the hard drug addict who remains within the therapeutic network. There is no-one in prison in Vienna for using hash.

Germany: Opinion in Germany differs between states, but in general, particularly in the north and west of the country, cannabis is not regarded as a priority issue, and is largely tolerated, with attention being focused more on hard drugs. In some states Dutch policies are seen as half-hearted, such as Hessen which has requested permission from Bonn to legalise hash and marijuana, and bring the trade under state control in order to control quality and undermine the black market.

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Repressive drug legislation is widely regarded to have failed and the Minister of Health, Horst Seehofer, previously very against legalising drugs, has appointed a commission to review current policy, the first theme to be addressed being that of “Liberalisation and legalisation of soft and hard drugs”.

Italy: Italy is a major exception to the general trend towards tolerance of soft drugs, with its American-style ‘war on drugs’ policies implemented in 1990. While consumption is officially not a punishable offence, the 1990 legal limit set at half a gram puts most hash users into the category of dealer for which one is eligible for a prison sentence of 4 years.

This is set to change as the result of a referendum held in April 1993 to lighter punishments such as confiscation of driver’s licence, and the legal limit being scrapped with the onus on the state to prove dealership. The 3 years in which the stringent Italian laws were in practice have lead to overcrowded prisons has put further pressure on the Italian government to devise new policies.

Britain: In the UK, cannabis and hash are as illegal as other drugs by law, but in practice, with an estimated 6 million consumers, anyone arrested with less than 30 grams is more likely to be given a warning than face imprisonment. The maximum prison sentence is 5 years for possession. Anyone caught with more than 30 grams is considered as a dealer and faces a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. Soft drugs are considered more a problem by the government than by social workers.

Sweden: The prevailing belief in Sweden is that all mind-altering substances are very dangerous, and therefore strictly illegal. As a result the Swedish government, social workers and police are very alarmed by the prevailing atmosphere of tolerance towards soft drugs in Europe with the open border policy.

All drugs are taboo in Sweden – even alcohol is only reluctantly tolerated, and is sold exclusively by state-controlled outlets. While France is the most vociferous critic of Holland, it is really Sweden who is the most at odds with Dutch policy. There is pressure on Holland to change the laws tolerating cannabis and hash which were established in the 70s. However, while Holland does not wish to stick its neck out, it is also unwilling to bow to pressure for more repressive legislation.