The Polish parliament recently pushed through a series of amendments – mostly relating to new psychoactive substances – to the country's law on counteracting drug addiction. Read about the Polish politicians’ total contempt for the opinion of civil society, as well as for evidence-based drug policy.
The Health Subcommittee of the Sejm (the lower house of Poland’s parliament) has been considering amendments to the law on counteracting drug addiction. The proposed changes include:
- Adding another 112 substances, including so-called designer drugs, to the schedule of banned substances;
- Setting up a body to advise which substances contained in designer drugs should be placed on the list of narcotics; and the most controversial change:
- introducing a new definition of non-fibrous cannabis herbs, i.e. marijuana.
1 g flower with THC + 20 g of leaves and stalks = 21 g cannabis by the new Polish law
At this point, it’s important to point out that Polish drug law makes the possession of any quantity of drugs punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The new definition of cannabis herbs includes not only cannabis inflorescences with a THC concentration exceeding 0.2%, but also any part of the plant (by itself or in a mixture), with the exception of the seeds but including leaves and stalks, with a THC content exceeding 0.2%. Significantly, cannabis leaves and stems often have a THC content in excess of 0.2%, and are used as intoxicants; but the second case is rare – most often these 'other parts' have a THC content below the threshold.
The decision is an easy one, when we can see what part of the plant we’re dealing with, and can measure its THC content; but a problem arises in the case of dried, ground cannabis: At the moment, it is not regulated by law, even if has a THC content above 0.2% – simply because it can’t be determined what part of the plant it comes from. If the proposed amendment takes effect, this dried matter would qualify as a 'non-fibrous cannabis herb', the possession of which would be punishable by imprisonment. But what if the dried matter is made up largely of parts of the plant that contain less than 0.2% THC, mixed with high-THC-content parts of the plant? In this case, the parts of the plant not containing THC will also be considered cannabis herb.
The law goes too far
This is clearly problematic, and will lead to abuses and to widening the legal net, catching people who possess mixtures of cannabis herbs that include plant parts with less than 0.2% THC. It could lead to absurd situations, such as a user possessing 1 gram of dried matter and 29 grams of stems and leaves, being charged with possession of significant amounts of narcotics, and facing a prison term of up to 10 years.
Instead of the proposed solution, what is probably needed is to consider introducing a table of trace amounts of narcotics, laying out a definition of 'negligible amounts'. If this tool were used immediately, without the need for expensive chemical testing, the majority of cases of cannabis herb possession could be abandoned, saving the state the cost of misguided prosecutions of drug users.
Civil society raised its concerns regarding the proposals, when, at the health subcommittee’s hearing, Agnieszka Sieniawska (chairwoman of the Polish Drug Policy Network) and Marcin Chałupka of Krytyka Polityczna, a left-leaning intellectual group, submitted arguments against the proposal. Unfortunately, the expert opinion of the Network representative was ignored by MPs and decision-makers.
First, the Network's opinion on the new definition of cannabis herb in mixtures was deemed not to raise any concerns concerning the approval of the proposed amendment in the form drafted by the Health Ministry. Representatives of the Health Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Police did not agree with the opinion of the civil society representatives. The argument that the proposed new regulation was unconstitutional was silenced, and the amendment was approved unanimously. Next, the request for the creation of a group of experts to prepare an opinion on the definition of “mixture” was completely ignored; and the proposal that a representative of civil society might join the opinion-forming council concerning designer drugs also met with disapproval and rejection from the political class.
Politicians only interested in how to ban things
The group of politicians and decision-makers – representatives of the ministries, the Forensic Laboratory and the Police – were all opposed to the changes proposed by the organisations, and rejected their substantive criticisms. Their thoughts were preoccupied by other matters: how to win the war on designer drugs, how to ban the broadest-possible group of substances, and how to implement the broadest penalties for the production, sale and possession of designer drugs.
A decision was made to add another 112 substances to the list of banned substances. The politicians and decision-makers spent their time considering how to perfect the mechanism for banning further substances, and how to pre-empt chemists who discover new legal loopholes. No thought was given to the subject of basing drug policy (including in relation to designer drugs) on principles such as harm reduction, prevention in schools, and a long-overdue retreat from the idea of penalising possession for personal use; the opinions of civil society were deemed to be unwanted, unneeded and unimportant.
Agnieszka Sieniawska, Polish Drug Policy Network
Note: A Polish-language video of the hearing can be seen here (civil society representatives speak at 19:18, 19:33, 19:38 and 19:54):