HCLU won a Freedom of information lawsuit against the Hungarian Ministry of Health for withholding a position paper on the dangerousness of illicit substances. After receiving the document HCLU issued a comprehensive study as a critique.HCLU won a Freedom of information lawsuit against the Hungarian Ministry of Health for withholding a position paper on the dangerousness of illicit substances. After receiving the document HCLU issued a comprehensive study as a critique.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union won a Freedom of information lawsuit against the Hungarian Ministry of Health for withholding a position paper on the dangerousness of illicit substances, written by the Hungarian Expert Association of Psychiatry and the Expert Association of Neurology. HCLU has written a 95 page long study on the 7 page long position paper of the Associations, gaining interest both in the media and among experts. The Ministry may reconsider categorization of illicit substances, on which the minimum penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking are planned to be based.
In 2004 the European Council ordered the Member States to lay down minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking, with the aim of developing a common EU level approach. The Framework Decision called for “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties, taking into account among others “factual elements such as the quantities and the type of drugs trafficked”.
As Hungarian drug laws yet do not classify illicit substances according to their dangers, the Ministry of Health requested a position paper on the categorization of illicit substances from the Expert Associations of Psychiatry and Neurology. The HCLU showed interest and asked for the paper, but both the Associations and the Ministry have refused to give it out. HCLU has sued the Ministry of Health, and after an almost one year long process, the court ordered the Ministry to give it out.
HCLU staff was surprised as it contained not more that 3.5 pages with 4 pages of bibliography. HCLU has issued a brief press release saying it does not provide evidence base for legal decisions, as it is more like a one sided ideological pamphlet with moralizing, scientifically unproven or at best debated claims. HCLU staff discovered that one third of the document was the slightly changed translation of the abstract of a Swedish clinical psychologists’ article. Although the press later interpreted so, HCLU did not state that this was plagiarism, but raised its concern on scientific exhaustiveness. Objectiveness was also a question since the author is a member of the radical prohibitionist organization, Europe Against Drugs.
As an answer to the Position Paper, HCLU has issued a comprehensive study. It contained scientific analysis of various drug related claims of the Associations, and the review of the international literature on drug categorization.
Some weeks after the study was released, the Ministry of Health initiated a public consultation process with various professional organizations – including HCLU – on the possibilities of developing a classification system for illicit substances. This means that our campaign was successful in generating a social dialogue on this question.
The most important conclusions of the study are the following, presented in the form of a Fact Sheet.
1. Criticism of the statements of the Associations
Cannabis and memory decay: it is not proven that the long, intensive use of marijuana causes as significant and permanent damage in cognition, perception and memory like the long, intensive use of alcohol;
Cannabis and amotivational syndrome: heavy users of marijuana who are under the influence of acute marijuana intoxication regularly may feel less motivation for everyday activities but marijuana itself has no chronic effect which causes the loss of motivation and energy in the longer run;
Cannabis and stroke: there are very few existing research in this area but it is very unprobable that cannabis contributes significantly to the development of stroke;
Ecstasy and brain damage: the occasional use of MDMA does not lead to the damage of the nervous system, there is a detectable damage in cognitive functions of regular users but it is detectable only with very sensitive tests and does not effect everyday living.
2. The dangerousness of psychoactive substances
Risk and hazard: the dangerousness of a given drug can be assessed only with the thorough analysis of the set and setting of use, social and health characteristics of the user. The actual hazard of drug use is consisted of various risk factors which can change with the environment and the user.
Drug-specific and system-specific risk: we have to differentiate the risk which is the characteristic of the use of a substance in itself from the risk connected to the social and political context of the use;
Perceived and real risk: often there is a big gap between risk perceived by society and the risk proven by scientific research. There are several everyday activities which can be much more dangerous than the real risks from the use of many illicit drugs – however, their perceived risk is relatively low;
Danger and crime: drug related harms usually cannot be reduced by simple repressive measures which are sometimes counterproductive. The controlled, limited legal access to drugs can minimalize these harms.
The report therefore recommends to find an alternative policy option between criminal prohibition and free market legalization of drugs. The aims of this new control system is:
•to regulate, limit and control the access to different mind altering drugs.
•to provide wide access to social and health programs intending to reduce drug related harms and prevent drug abuse;
•to fight black market with effective law enforcement interventions
1 February 2007
1 February 2007
 Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA of 25 october 2004 laying down minimum provisions on the constituent elements of criminal acts and penalties in the field of illicit drug trafficking URL:http://href.hu/x/28in
 Lundqvist T. (2005) Cognitive consequences of cannabis use: comparison with abuse of stimulants and heroin with regard to attention, memory and executive functions. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Jun;81(2):319-30. URL: http://href.hu/x/1z13
 URL: http://www.eurad.net
 Risky Substances and Dangerous Drug Policies, Ed.: Peter Sarosi, HCLU, 2007, Budapest (only in Hungarian) URL: http://href.hu/x/27u2