1. Home
  2. Articles
  3. Celebrating Poland’s Slow Yet Steady Drug Reform

Celebrating Poland’s Slow Yet Steady Drug Reform

A heart in Polish flag colours in front of buildings

While Poland is not known for being the most progressive country in their treatment of people who use drugs, changes have slowly yet steadily been occurring in the background. Global evidence, changing political opinion and pragmatic political developments have helped develop the country’s drug policies.

It has been 23 years since Poland criminalised the possession of drugs with the article 62 of the National Law for Countering Drug Addiction. While the country had ratified the 1961 Single Convention on Drugs, possession had never been made a criminal offence in Poland, meaning people using drugs were legally left to their own devices (the reality on the ground with law enforcement interactions may have been different).

However, while the possession of drugs remains criminalised, a lot has changed since this early ban. In the past two decades, we have seen two major legislative changes in Polish drug policy, which could be an incremental ‘thawing’ of political attitudes towards drugs and those who use them.

Firstly, in 2011, the National Law for Countering Drug Addiction was amended with a new article 62(a). This enables judges to dismiss cases of drug possession when the amounts seized were for personal use.

Later, in 2017, Polish policy makers also decided to legalise the medical use of cannabis. Currently there are several strains of hemp available in Poland with varying levels of THC and CBD. In 2022, Poland had an estimated 9,000 patients legally accessing medical cannabis, making it one of the largest patient populations in Europe.

Both of these changes are far from perfect. The amendment 62(a) is not used fairly and systematically. Chances for dismissal are influenced by your geographic region. If you are found in possession of a controlled substance in a larger city, for example, your case is much more likely to be dismissed than in a smaller town.

Access to medicinal cannabis is also limited. While Poland has an estimated population of around 9,000 patients legally accessing medical cannabis, research has shown doctors are still hesitant to prescribe it, failing to meet its demand. As in Britain, patients must still use the black market. That being said – any discussion on decriminalisation or legalisation would have been unthinkable in the 2000s.


Indicators of change

It seems, however, that the driver of potential change will not be found in the political sphere but within the broader ‘public-sphere.’ A couple of years ago, I interviewed a Minister closely associated with a bill from 2000 which sought to criminalise all possession of drugs. She maintained that, in her view:


No tumour related illness or any other illness is a threat as big as narcotics in Poland … and worldwide.

But this view does not seem to be shared by the majority of Poles who increasingly believe that cannabis should be regulated. The Eurobarometer poll demonstrated that only 27% of Polish respondents agreed with a statement that cannabis should be regulated in 2008. In 2021, this rose to 71%. Other attitudinal studies like the Polish National Drug Report (in 2006 and 2019) demonstrate a similar rising trend in support.

Agreement with statement: “cannabis should be regulated”, with “strongly agree” and “agree” responses combined. Source: FlashEurobarometer (2011 and 2021.)


There are other indicators of change. The European School Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), running in Poland since 1995, asks school-aged-children about harms associated with drugs including cannabis. Their data shows that occasional and regular cannabis use are no longer seen to be as harmful as in the 1990s. In 1995, 81% of respondents thought that smoking cannabis regularly carries “high risks” (as perceived by the respondents), which dropped to 60% by 2019. 53% of respondents in 1995 thought that smoking cannabis from time to time carries high risks to health; the most recent iteration of the study (2019) showed it had dropped to 23%.


You can’t control all the information

All of this could reflect changes to the relation of people, state, and media. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Polish government officials were in a much better position to create and reinforce certain narratives on drugs.

At the time, the Polish government was very proactive in disseminating abstinence-oriented messages to the public. Many of these were built on fear tactics and exaggerated claims. Some of the older Polish readers might remember an advert featuring a mother of a child addicted to drugs, who came out in support of criminalisation, saying: “better to have my child in prison than in a cemetery.” These campaigns were effective at persuading many members of the public that all drugs – whether cannabis or Polish heroin – were the same thing; and that one led to another.

I am not saying that this influence has completely diminished – it has not, but what has changed is the access to information. An entire YouTube channel called “Wiem Co Ćpie(I know what I am taking) was set up in 2017 to educate Poles on drug-related issues. Other figures are working to change the drug-related stigma: the rapper Mata has started a national campaign for cannabis decriminalisation; high-schoolers have created information campaigns for young adults to discuss drugs’ effects. These national products exist alongside growing international evidence, available on the internet and in popular media, of which access was much more limited to older generations that grew up under the pre-internet communist regime.

It is therefore much more difficult for policymakers to influence public opinion on drugs and how people who use drugs should be treated, when there is increasing evidence and changing perspectives on them. Dogmatic views which were easily disseminated and accepted in the 1990s (like “you will smoke cannabis then take heroin”) are now mocked by younger people. These harmful myths have also been debunked with the hard work of civic societies like the Polish Drug Policy Network (PDPN) or the Free Hemp Society.

This overview is not to suggest that Poland will be the next country to decriminalise drugs. Advocates will continue to struggle to change public opinion over drugs and those who use them as long as the government portrays them as responsible for crime and other undesired social behaviours. However, it does highlight that even in a country that has politically been averse to drug policy change, they have not been able to resist the change of the global drug tide. From the economic and medical gains that medical cannabis created, to the improved treatment of people who use drugs (by the criminal justice system), these small signs of progress should be cause for hope in the future.

Overall, I believe that change is happening, as slow as it may seem. These changes might not be immediately felt – especially to those who live in Poland and are frustrated with the current system. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that the country is in a different point to where it was at the beginning of the millennium.

We need to continue pushing for wider acceptance of the evidence around progressive drug policy, just like the PDPN and the Free Hemp Society are doing and ensure that this translates into concrete policy successes.

Previous Post
Brain Boosters Unleashed: Cognitive Enhancers Use Among University Students
Next Post
Futuro Coca: Imagining a New Future for Coca in Colombia

Related content