Bill to decriminalize use of drugs

The government is preparing a bill that would decriminalize the use of drugs - in a bid to help users kick the habit and ease overcrowding in Greek prisons - but the possession and supply of drugs and the cultivation of cannabis will remain punishable actions.

?We cannot send people to jail for two grams of hashish,? Deputy Justice Minister Giorgos Petalotis told state television NET on Wednesday, adding that those found in possession of drugs ?will be treated as petty offenders.?

There is no reference in the bill to the exclusion of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin from decriminalization, suggesting that the possession of any drugs - provided that they are deemed to have been destined for personal use - will no longer be a crime.

According to Petalotis, the dual aim of the initiative is to help addicts and ease crowding in prisons. ?We have prisons full of inmates for drug-related offenses. These are people who need help,? he said.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou said that under the new legislation, cultivating cannabis and the possession or use of drugs would be regarded as misdemeanors, provided that the actions do not impact on third parties.

The bill also aims to reduce the workload of the police, who spend much of their time dealing with drug addicts, and to make it more difficult for drug dealers to avoid punishment by claiming to be users.

The legislation requires addicts to be medically diagnosed as such so that those claiming to be users cannot exploit it. The bill also establishes that all drug addicts have the right to rehabilitation at a state clinic.

The government has pledged to relocate units of the Organization Against Drugs (OKANA) away from the city center as their presence is believed to have encouraged the widespread use and trade in various drugs.