Member States’ policies

The trend observed in recent years to organise national drug policy through national action plans and coordinated systems continued in 2002. Sweden and Norway and some Austrian provinces joined other EU partners in adopting a coherent drugs plan, programme or strategy. At the same time, members of the public are becoming increasingly aware of drug abuse and its consequences and are taking an interest in national policy. Surveys show that the clear majority of the public remain opposed to legalisation of cannabis. The low level of support for legalisation probably reflects the belief that cannabis is a gateway drug. However, varying levels of support were given to the idea of modifying punishments for the use of cannabis in certain circumstances.

An overview of developments of drug use and responses to it in the educational, health, social and criminal justice systems shows that both problems and problematic groups are often not clear-cut. National and local policies increasingly reflect an awareness of the insidious character of the phenomenon by making boundaries between the systems more permeable and flexible through increasing cooperation and diversification.

Healthcare, educational and social policies are becoming more important in reducing drug-related problems in the widest sense, and it is increasingly recognised that the criminal justice system alone is not always capable of handling the problem of drug use. The link between social exclusion policy and drug issues is stronger in some countries, such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, than in others. Several countries in the EU have introduced legislative changes to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts and other legal changes have opened up possibilities for early interventions among young experimental drug users. Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom and Norway, have increased healthcare investment in an attempt to reduce the number of drug-related deaths. In line with the EU action plan’s commitment to provide a variety of wide and easily accessible treatment options, some countries, for example Finland and Greece, have changed their financing schemes as well as regulations regarding substitution treatment.

Against a background of increased security, a number of countries report legal changes to improve the monitoring of traffickers and users, including telecommunications monitoring, body searching and drug testing. Other legal changes have aimed at minimising the social impact of drug use by providing stricter control of public order and public nuisance.