Myopic policy

If the meeting of the Interministerial Committee Against Narcotics yesterday confirmed one thing, it is that one cannot expect Greece to break fresh ground in fighting the scourge of drugs. The committee, of course, took some positive decisions such as to expand the supply network of drug substitutes to addicts and reduce the maximum punishment for drug use. However, once again it refused to examine the possibility of decriminalizing drug use, despite Health Minister Costas Stefanis’s recommendations. Starting with the prime minister’s remark that «drug users are patients, not criminals,» the session finally concluded that the patient is a criminal also, except that his offense is not as serious: From now on he will be jailed for a maximum of one year but the penalty will not go on his criminal record. Stefanis’s proposal was rejected in the face of opposition by Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, Education Minister Petros Efthymiou and Deputy Economy Minister Giorgos Floridis, who argued that decriminalizing drug use would tie police hands in the pursuit of the drug trade. But this is questionable, given that organizations such as Interpol and the FBI have occasionally asked authorities to consider broad decriminalization. In fact, decriminalizing drug use would deprive the police of very specific axes of pressure and exchange whose contribution in preventing the spread of such substances is highly questionable. Arrests and confiscations may rise but this is, in fact, a result of increased drug trafficking rather than of police repression. The decision to decriminalize drugs is not an easy one. But there seems to be no other way of tackling the issue. Even though authorities may deny this, their counter-drug measures have failed. The fall in the number of deaths of drug addicts in Athens is not attributed to police measures but rather to methadone and the decline in cocaine prices, which caused a demand shift away from injectable heroin. Doctors and criminologists are no longer considering the decriminalization of drug use – which is now considered a basic move – but the decriminalization of drugs per se, a move which is expected to slash the huge profit margins reaped by the illicit drug trade, eventually also pushing down demand in the long term. In the wake of yesterday’s decisions, it seems certain that arrests and sentencing will continue. Drugs will continue to change hands outside police stations and court rooms.