Measures to reduce public order/nuisance offences

Over the last year, legislative provisions in some Member States have aimed at minimising the social impact of drug use by providing stricter control of public order and public nuisance.

In Ireland, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, 2002, was introduced to strengthen the 1994 Act relating to public order. Persons convicted under the 1994 Act for a public order offence, including intoxication (by drug use) in public, and who could endanger themselves or others, may be issued with an exclusion order prohibiting them from entering or being in certain premises, including licensed premises, dance halls or premises that serve food.

In the United Kingdom, Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which applies to individual occupiers and managers of certain types of premises, was amended to cover the unlawful consumption of any controlled drug (previously it applied only to smoking of cannabis or opium) in order to deal with crack houses. However, these powers are wide in scope, and the government has subsequently decided that the Section 8 proposals may not be sufficiently effective in dealing with this problem. Consequently, it is seeking to introduce new legislation in the form of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, which is targeted at premises rather than individuals, which will enable the police, in consultation with local authorities, to shut crack houses within 48 hours. Consequently, the UK is not intending to implement the amendment to Section 8(d) for the time being, although this may yet be the case if the sanctions incorporated in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill are found to be less than completely effective over the next two years.

In the Netherlands, the 1997 Victoria Act gave town mayors the power to close down premises where drug use or trafficking was causing a public nuisance. However, as the closure of buildings may adversely affect the appearance and social structure of a neighbourhood, the new Victor Act of May 2002 allowed municipalities to reassign closed premises, for example by permitting new tenants to move in. In the city of Venlo, a four-year pilot project involving police, prosecutors and the government is aimed at reducing the nuisance caused by the many drug tourists who buy cannabis at unlicensed coffee shops. And in July 2002, the mayor of Rotterdam, exercising powers provided under the Municipality Act, personally imposed a six-month ban on about 50 drug addicts who were troubling the residents of a local borough. However, the regional court decided that, although the mayor was entitled to combat nuisance, a six-month ban was too long and not justified; despite this, the city of Rotterdam intends to continue with its banning policy.

In Denmark, an act prohibiting visiting in certain premises became effective in June 2001. The objective of the act is to provide more effective intervention in relation to cannabis clubs and other types of organised crime being perpetrated on premises and causing concern to neighbours. It allows the police, after advance warning, to issue a three-month injunction against the owner of such premises, prohibiting visitors from arriving or staying there. Violation of a injunction is punishable by a fine, with repeated violations attracting a prison sentence of up to 4 months.