Slovakia Drug Decriminalisation Derailed by Nationalist Obstruction, Despite Support from Justice Ministry
The President of Slovakia's Police Corps welcomed the bill: "it's important that we don't criminalise young people" (Source: Policie na Slovensku/Wikimedia)
A proposal by Slovakia’s Ministry of Justice to decriminalise personal drug possession will no longer be considered, following opposition from a party in the coalition government.
The draft bill, originally unveiled by the Justice Ministry in October 2017, aimed to reform Slovakia’s strict drug laws by ending the criminalisation of people for possessing small quantities of drugs for personal use.
Currently, personal possession of a small quantity of any drugs can lead to a prison sentence of up to five years - depending on the quantity involved. Alternatives to imprisonment, including community service and house arrest, can be imposed instead. Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská said that, if the proposed bill passed, personal possession would have been punishable by a fine on the first occasion, and could only be criminalised “in the case of repeated violations of the law within 12 months”.
The three parties in the government coalition – the centre-left Smer-SD, the centrist Most-Hid, and the nationalist SNS – were due to discuss the draft bill in a cabinet consultation on February 21. One day prior to this, the SNS declared it would not lend its support – thereby preventing any further progress, and leading to Žitňanská withdrawing the bill.
“We think that the justice department should focus more on excessively lengthy court proceedings and better law enforcement,” SNS deputy chairman Tibor Bernaťák stated, adding “[we do] not [want] decriminalisation of drugs, especially of cocaine and heroin.”
The lack of political support for this reform will prove disappointing to some policymakers, members of the public, and even police authorities.
Tibor Gašpar, president of Slovakia's Police Corps, welcomed the bill when it was first proposed, according to state broadcaster RTVS. "It's important that we don't criminalise young people, who may, sometimes even accidentally or with the intention of trying something, get into a situation in which they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and the police detain them," he said.
Data suggests that illegal drug use is fairly prevalent in Slovakia, particularly among young people. According to the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, more than 25 per cent of 15-16 year olds in Slovakia have used cannabis, and around 7 per cent have used illicit drugs other than cannabis; both figures higher than the European average.
The Justice Ministry had initially hoped that drug decriminalisation would come into effect by March 1 2018. While this is no longer feasible, recent remarks from senior politicians suggest a watered down reform bill could be put forward.
Petra Pellegrini, Deputy Prime Minister for Investments, and member of the Smer-SD party, said that decriminalising “soft drugs”, such as cannabis, “would be acceptable”. “I would have had a problem of allowing someone to go - for example - with a dose of cocaine or heroin along the streets”, Pellegrini told reporters, according to the SME newspaper, "If we kept the government's programme statement and walked through soft drugs, I think it would be easier to seek a compromise”. The Minister of Economy, Peter Ziga, has also endorsed cannabis decriminalisation, newspaper Dennik N reports.
Therefore, while the draft bill has been withdrawn, drug law reform may remain on the cards for Slovakia.