Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2001
Source: El Pais (Spain)
Contact:   (Spanish language LTEs only)
Author: Gabriela Caņas
Translation by: Robert Sharpe


The Sale Of Hashish Remains Illegal In A Majority Of States

Europe continues along a trend towards decriminalization of so-called
illegal drugs.  Of the 15 countries in the European Union, a total of
seven do not punish personal consumption of any drug or only impose
administrative fines.  With regards to cannabis tolerance is near
complete: only Sweden, France, Finland and Greece maintain penalties. 
Some countries want to go even further and call for legal medical
marijuana, as is the case with Catalonia.  Nevertheless, almost every
country maintains penalties for the sale of drugs.

In Greece, the possession of small quantities of drugs (including
cannabis) for personal use can result in between five days and five
years in prison.  Finland does not distinguish between personal use and
possession, which can be punished by up to two years in prison. 
Likewise, in Sweden consumption or possession of cannabis is punishable
by up to six months in jail.  France is the least harsh of the four
restrictive European Union countries.  Although penalties remain on the
books, a 1999 directive recommends that simple consumers not be
prosecuted and that drug treatment be proposed instead.

In the rest of the European Union, and Switzerland, the path undertaken
is that of decriminalized consumption.  Some countries, like Spain and
Italy, impose administrative fines.  Others, like Great Britain, leave
the door closed to opiates.  And there are those, like Belgium and
Luxembourg, that provide exemptions specifically for cannabis, making it
the least penalized drug in the European Union.  According to the
European Monitor of Drugs and Addiction (Observatorio Europeo de la
Droga y la Toxicomania), cannabis is also the drug most often consumed. 
A third of European adults have smoked cannabis at some point in time.

Ireland does not penalize consumption and possession is penalized with a
fine.  In Germany "insignificant quantities" are not prosecuted and
amounts considered insignificant vary depending on the locality.  In
Denmark, possession of small quantities typically results in a warning. 
Austria also stipulates the amount of drugs allowed for personal use.

"The situation is constantly changing" explains Danielo Ballotta,
legislative analyst for the European Monitor.  "In the United Kingdom
various organizations are promoting medical cannabis and I think the
government will ultimately take it under consideration.  In Luxembourg,
on the other hand, decriminalization was passed and the subject has not
come up again.

The latest changes have been in Portugal and Switzerland.  The former
takes effect this July.  No one in Portugal will be jailed for consuming
drugs and addicts will be attended to by a treatment commission.  "The
criteria is based solely on public health precepts" explained Ballotta.

In Switzerland, which does not belong to the European Union and has gone
so far as to prescribe heroin, a proposed law allows for the regulated
sale of cannabis.  The future may involve authorized sales outlets, like
the Dutch coffee shops.  Of course, stores will not be allowed to

This movement towards depenalized consumption conflicts with tough
penalties for trafficking drugs.  With the exception of Holland and,
later, Switzerland, consumers will have to continue purchasing drugs
from traffickers targeted by law enforcement.  Although many countries
impose the toughest penalties exclusively for problematic trafficking
and leaders of distribution rings, selling drugs can result in life
sentences, as is the case in France, Greece, Ireland and the United
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