On average, someone is arrested every three hours in Poland on suspicion of drug possession, most often during a routine street frisk.
The notorious article 62.1 in Poland’s drug law penalises possession of any quantity of drugs – regardless of their intended use and their type, as practice shows – with a penalty of up to 3 years’ imprisonment. While this provision was not intended for use against drug users, since 2000 around 30,000 people each year have been arrested based on suspicion of possessing banned substances. According to a 2008 report of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) the number of drug possession cases rose from 1,896 cases in 1999, before provisions were tightened, to 31,260 cases in 2007. This represents a staggering 1,648 percent increase in 8 years. In 2012, there were as many as 18,441 cases concerning drug possession. The reason why there was no further decrease is that, although article 62a was introduced in 2011, allowing criminal proceedings to be dropped in the case of people possessing small quantities of drugs for personal use, it has only rarely been used. According to statistics from the Polish Ministry of Justice, in 2012 only 2,307 cases were dropped on the basis of this provision, 2,145 by prosecutors and 162 by the courts. Considering that article 62a was created as a tool for prosecutors, and was supposed to reduce the length of the procedure, as well as lower costs, prosecutors have made decidedly too little use of this mechanism; they have used it in only 11.6 percent of cases, while the courts decided to drop charges on this basis in fewer than 0.9 percent of the cases.
Research by Krzysztof Krajewski from the Jagiellonian University shows that around 53 percent of all drug cases considered by the Cracow courts in 2008 concerned people possessing minimal amounts of an illegal psychoactive substance. Most often, possession of marijuana and hashish (around half of the cases) as well as amphetamine (around a third of the cases) had been detected. 79 percent of marijuana possession cases and 74 percent of amphetamine possession cases concerned quantities under 3 grams, and around 53 percent of persons convicted under art. 62 of the Polish drug law were under the age of 24.
This means that the majority of cases considered were minor offenses. Despite this, they constitute a serious cost for the National Treasury. According to a 2009 study by the Warsaw Institute of Public Affairs, almost 80 million PLN (20 million euros) were spent on implementing the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction, and art. 62.1 in particular – under which a person can be sent to prison for possession of any amount of an illegal substance.
Meanwhile, statistics concerning the health harms of substances both legal and illegal paint a clear picture: In Poland, the number of deaths caused by marijuana use is converging on zero, the opiate-related death toll is around 300 each year, while overdose of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines is responsible for the death of around 3,000 people a year. By way of contrast, alcohol-related deaths amount to around 30,000 p.a. – and yet it is still marijuana that gets highly demonised and is handled without rationality or a scientific evidence-base.
Agnieszka Sieniawska/Polish Drug Policy Network, Warsaw