Prawo karne wobec środków odurzających i psychotropowych (z problematyki teorii kryminalizacji)

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prawo karne
środki odurzające
teoria kryminalizacji
penal law
illegal drugs
theory of criminalization

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Krajewski, K. (1995). Prawo karne wobec środków odurzających i psychotropowych (z problematyki teorii kryminalizacji). Archiwum Kryminologii, (XXI), 41–79.


The present policy of all countries of the world  towards narcotic  and psychotropic drugs is in fact prohibitionIST. This means that all circulation of such drugs  ‒ their manufacture, transport, import, export, introduction into trade, giving,  and sometimes also possession – is illegal and carries most severe penal sanctions in some cases. It should be borne in mind, though, that this prohibition is ONLY about eighty years old now. Before, despite a large numer of addicts (not at all smaller than today according to some estimations), purely medical approach to such persons prevailed, and the drugs were subject only (if at all) to some administrative control and rationing at most. The drug prohibition emerged immediately after World War I, chiefly in United Stetes. As can be judged today, the criminalization of drugs and addicts introduced in those days was highly emotional. For this reason, by no means the harmfulness of narcotic and psychotropic drugs on both the individual and the social scale, one should consider the use and reasons of prohibitive policy from the viewpoint of today’s standards of rational criminalization. It is unquestionable that any social policy with respect to drugs should aim first and foremost at reduction of their consumption. The question remains, though, about the extent to which prohibition and penal law can actually serve towards this aim.

Universal in the world of today as it is, the prohibitive approach to drugs assumes a variety of forms. There are different models of prohibition which base on different penal law regulations. They can be classified in two dimensions: restrictiveness vs. permissiveness, and repressiveness vs. treatment.

Te first of the above dimensions pertains to the extent of criminalization; the other one – to treatment by the law of addicted offenders. Restrictive systems are those which provide for absolute prohibition with no exceptions whatever and ban all circulation of drugs, possession included. Instead, permissive systems provide for  an extent of decriminalization of that circulation, chiefly with respect to possession of drugs. Involved here is usually decriminalization, or even total depenalization of possession of specific amounts of drugs or drugs possessed for a specific purpose as e.g. own consumption. This depenalization can be introduced not only by substantive law but also by procedural provisions law. In this latter case, elements of expediency are introduced, offering the prosecutor or court the possibility to discontinue proceedings or to drop the charge.

Repressive systems treat addicted offenders like all the other offenders, applying to them regular penal sanctions both for traditional criminal offenses (as e.g.. theft), and for the “prohibitive” ones (such as possession of drugs). Treatment-oriented systems, instead, reflect a belief as to futility of punishing addicts: within tchem, attempts are made at implementing a principle “tratment instead of punishment”. In most cases, this means that an addict can avoid penal sanction if he submits to withdrawal treatment. The actual application of such provisions on conditional stay of proceedings usually depends on the seriousness of the offense committed. It can be stated that most of today’s European legislations try more or less consistently to combine elements of permissiveness with the treatment orientation.

Particularly useful in the analysis of the reason and sense of prohibition are specific economic notions and categories used successfully within so-called economic approach in criminology: demand and supply. Therefore, to what extent are prohibition and penal law capable of reducing the demand for narcotic and psychotropic drugs? First, the demand for those substances is created by a great variety of categories of individuals. The first such category are the consumers. This group, however, is by no means uniform as it consists of both addicted persons, occasional users, and experimenters. Another group which is of great importance in terms of the aims of prohibition are potential consumers, that is practically the whole of socjety if we take the extreme approach. Penal law can influence those groups through its instruments of special and general prevention. The possibilities of applying individual prevention to addicts or occasional users are minimal, though, which results from the very essence of addiction. It is a general opinion today that punishment cannot force an addict to give up his addiction. Only therapy can potentially be successful here; but – an extremely important issue – therapy to which a person submits voluntarily. Today’s spread of this opinion is expressed in the above-mentioned principle of “treatment instead of punishment”. It means that, the very principle of prohibition preserved, penal repression with respect to addicts is avoided. In this interpretation, the individual preventive action of punishment is reserved for the group of persons who experiment with drugs (as it would be simply impossible to criminalize a mere wish to take drugs). The question still remains, though, whether punishment as a form of shock therapy makes any sense here.

The general preventive effect of penal law assumes the forms of either deterrence or so-called positive prevention. Deterrence is entirely out of the question in the case of addicted drug consumers due to the considerable rigidity of their demand. Yet deterrence is just as inefficient with respect to potential consumers. This is caused by a huge dark number of “prohibition”, resulting from their specific nature of offenses without no victims: the police encounter immense difficulties trying to disclose such acts. Most legislators try to make up for these weak points introducing severe statutory penalties. This is ineffective in the light of the long-discovered truth that it is rather inevitability than severity of punishment that determines the effectiveness of deterrence.

A similar problem arises with respect to potential integrative function of penal law. The question is whether this kind of function – consisting in reinforcement of specific values with the aim to integrate a group – can really be performed by relatively seldom euforced provisions such as no doubt the penal law provisions designed to safeguard prohibition. What remains, therefore, is just the argument, classically used when discussing the problem of decriminalization, that this step might be interpreted as a consent to a specific behavior (here, the taking of drugs) which, in turn, might have disastrous consequences. In this interpretation, prohibition is the last outpost to curb completely unrestrained spread of drug addiction.

Penal law's inability to exert any crucial influence on demand considered, it is assumed more and more often today that prohibition aims basically at reducing the supply of drugs. The application of penal law to this area  is justified to the extent that its addressees are not addicts but manufacturers, smugglers, dealers and other such persons most of whom are not drugs consumers themselves but only derive profit from the addiction of others. No doubt, penal law sometimes succeeds to eliminate such persons by means of incapacitation or deterrence.  Generally, though, there is a specific and important internal contradiction involved in prohibition: delegalization of drugs in a situation of continued demand makes the  provision of supply a most attractive activity since it yields immense profits. As a result, not even the most severe penalties can either deter those involved in this activity or prevent the recruitment of their successors, the less so as the risks they run are actually rather small for reasons that have been mentioned above. It might perhaps prove possible to eliminate all supply of drugs, but not without the use of universal terror. This option, however, is out of the question in a democratic state governed by the ruled by law.

Therefore, are there any alternatives to prohibition? The answer seems to be yes. First and foremost, one should realize the crucial problem of today’s drug addiction is demand. Admittedly, the demand for drugs can be seen as a apecific cultural constant, something we have to put up with. One should bear in mind, however, the  attempts at influencing that phenomenon with constructive and creative rather than destructive methods. Quite obviously, this is an extremely difficult and entangled  task – as difficult and  entangled as any struggle against the couses and not just the synptoms of a social problem. It seems, however, that work on developing constructive strategies to fight the demand  for drugs is the basic challenge of modern civilization. Namely, if we manage to gain any influence over the couses that make so many young people of today reach for drugs – if we manage to cause a reduction of that demand – departure from prohibition and resumption of the purely medical  approach to drugs might perhaps become possible. For this reason, decriminalization or legalization of drugs should be seen today as a long-term strategic aim; before it can actually be achieved, prolonged preparations, experiments, small steps strategies, and chiefly efforts towards reduction of demand by methods other than  repression are necessary. I believe it would be too risky if we tried to run this operation straight away and to leave the matter to be regulated by nothing but the forces of the free market. Finally, the fact has to be borne in mind that decriminalization can only be sensible if it is done globally; this means that such decision require close international co-operation and co-ordination.


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