Criminal law is not the appropriate tool for dealing with drug use

At the 3rd Greek National Forensic Psychiatry Conference organized from 9-11 December 2016 in Athens, a round table discussion took place on “Sentencing of Drug Offenders, the Legislators Policy and the Practice of the Courts in South East Europe”. Participants at the round table were: Mrs. M. Malliori, psychiatrist, Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Hospital “Eginition” (coordinator) Mr. Ath. Apostolou, Director of the NGO “Diogenis” DRUG policy dialogue, Mr. K. Kokkolis, psychiatrist responsible of the Piraeus Rehabilitation Unit, OKANA and Ms. Ch. Papageorgiou, responsible for the Legal Service, of NGO «Centre for Life».

The roundtable speakers presented research data published by organizations such as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs (EMCDDA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Prison Observatory; research recently published by “Diogenis” on drug law and the practice of the courts concerning sentencing of drug offenders, as well as problems encountered in daily practice in relation to implementation of the existing legislation.

The participants at the roundtable noted that the survey data and the daily practice undoubtedly lead to the conclusion that the conviction and especially the imprisonment of drug users for possession of small quantities for personal use do not help to address the use of drugs. On the contrary, they create additional harmful consequences to the individual and society. Negative consequences include the adoption of risk behaviors such as unsafe use, the risk of death from overdose and the spread of communicable diseases. There was general recognition that criminal law is not the appropriate tool for dealing with drug use. There is a need to shift the responsibility from punishment to health care. Interventions from audience of the roundtable raised mainly issues of everyday implementation pointing out that there is a gap between theory and reality. Much more attention have to be given to the practical implementation of policy and legislation.