Criminalizing drug possession has unintended consequences

Experts criticize Lithuania's 2017 punitive drug possession law as harmful to both law enforcement and addicts seeking help.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Criminalizing drug possession has unintended consequences - NewsMavens
Police arrest, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

Last year, Vice ran a somewhat scaremongering and not fully accurate piece on the criminalizing of drug possession in Lithuania to draw international attention to the country's harsh approach to addiction.

 The ruling government also wants to curb alcohol use with various restrictions and punishments. Some years ago, Vilnius famously banned drinking alcohol outdoors, save at cafes and bars.

Although international evidence shows that other approaches could be more effective, punitive measures against drugs and various "lifestyle" offences enjoy wide popular approval, while recent alcohol restrictions were swallowed with less resistance than might be expected.

However, several experts, including a representative of the state authority dealing with addiction, voiced their criticism of the current approach. Critics pointed out that it may not only hinder addicts' access to medical help, but may also do a disservice to the police who are investigating drug traders with the help of their clients.

Details from the story:

  • As of 2017, under a new law, drug possession without aiming to sell is a criminal offence in Lithuania.
  • Nearly 2,000 persons have been sanctioned under the new law and had drug possession added to their police conduct records. As a result, they can no longer be employed with the police force, work as pilots or study in the military academy.
  • Speaking at Būtent, a festival of ideas, Aušra Širvinskienė of the Vilnius Centre for Addictive Disorders reiterated that addiction is a disease, which is never cured by punitive means.
  • Other experts pointed out that many fear being sent to the police if they seek medical help, although the fear is baseless, as medics are not allowed to report patients to the police in such cases.

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