Proposal for decriminalizing drugs could be tabled for debate in Saeima

A proposal to decriminalize drug use might soon be submitted to Saeima for debating, Interior Ministry undersecretary of state Jānis Bekmanis told the press April 12.

Under the current provisions of the Administrative Offenses Code, illegal use of narcotic or psychoactive substances is punishable by official warning or a fine of up to €280. The Criminal Law stipulates a jail term of up to three months, community service or a fine for illegal use of drugs if the offense is committed by person who has been warned of criminal liability for illegal purchase, possession and use of narcotics.

Bekmanis indicated that in the future, narcotics-related policies should increasingly focus on promoting public health and prevention.

A debate has been started under the auspices of the Justice Ministry on whether criminal liability for illegal drug use ensures the desired “deterring effect”, Bekmanis said.

“As far as I know, when these discussions end, there is a plan to resume the debate in parliament. In this context, we have been seriously analyzing other countries’ experience to figure out if Latvia’s system will be resilient enough to cope with possible consequences,” the Interior Ministry’s official said.

Mentioning the example of Portugal which has chosen to decriminalize drug use, Bekmanis noted that simultaneously, sizable investments have been made in Portugal’s health sector, drug prevention and the law enforcement system.

For now, the Latvian Interior Ministry’s position of drug decriminalization remains extremely cautious, Bekmanis said. At the same time, the issue remains on the agenda as the ministry cannot ignore policy changes in the rest of the European Union.

“Whether our society is practically and psychologically prepared to take responsibility of drug users is a question that has to be considered,” the ministry official said.

According to the Interior Ministry, every fourth student in Latvia has tried drugs. Marijuana, amphetamine and opioids remain the most popular varieties of getting high, with ministry rep Agnese Zīle Veisberga saying that the number of people using highly deadly heroin substitutes has been increasing. 

Out of all social groups, drug use is the most prevalent among young men. 

In 2015 health officials quickly killed a public initiative to decriminalize growing, storing and using marijuana. 

Medicinal marijuana has been recently legalized in Lithuania, with the law coming into force this May.

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