More from the conference: A look into decriminalization polices across Europe

A lot of the conference attendees and organizations are active contributors to the Fiducia Project.  Fiducia focuses on trust in justice across the European Union and explores a variety of topics, including: smuggling of goods (which is what I do my work on), human trafficking, and drug trafficking, to name a few.  

The key focus of Fiducia, however, has always centered on tracking the perceptions of criminal systems and mapping the population’s trust in these respective systems.  Because of this, Fiducia also supports research into problems of the criminal justice system, including: overcrowding in prisons, treatment of minority populations, and overcriminalization.  This brings us into one of Fiducia’s current research focuses on decriminalization.

The European Union, in some ways, acts as a laboratory of ideas and policy just like the United States.  Thus, as many of you might already know, there are a wide variety of approaches to decriminalization within the EU.  Portugal is now evaluating twelve years of complete decriminalization, Spain is considering welcoming marijuana cafes similar to Amsterdam, and countries across the EU are beginning to dabble in relaxed and revised drug policies.  My colleague from Italy, Elena Vaccari, from the University of Parma, presented on this topic and explained the different policies adopted throughout the European Union.  She broke up the decriminalization effort into three categories: countries who had a written policy of decriminalization, countries who had an unspoken policy of decriminalization (official or unofficial policy to not enforce some or all drug laws), and countries who continued to enforce their drug laws.  

While she pointed to a variety of programs, she highlighted Italy and Portugal in order to contrast two policies moving toward total decriminalization.  As she noted, Portugal has taken a more holistic approach to decriminalization and has been able to reduce their prison population while keeping drug use rates more or less consistent.  Italy, a country that has put less effort into helping and assisting drug addicts and users, has faced increased drug use and overcrowding in prisons continues to afflict the country.  The research presented demonstrates that decriminalization programs can be successfully implemented in the EU, but an emphasis on rehabilitation services and assistance for people suffering from addiction can distinguish a program’s success from its failure.

The Baltic Criminology Conference provided an opportunity to contrast this research for the European Union with the experience and research from Russia.  Dr. Konstantin Kharabet, of the Military University in Russia, also attended the conference and spoke on Russia’s current policies on drug trafficking and abuse, which are roughly the opposite of Portugal’s.  Russia has adopted a very strict stance on drug trafficking and abuse and sees decriminalization as an impracticable, ineffective impossibility.  

However, with recent reports of fatalities from drug overdose topping 100,000 and tripling since 2012, it raises questions about traditional approaches to drug trafficking and abuse, like Russia’s, should be reconsidered.  The Baltic Criminology Conference didn’t provide answers to these questions, but it did allow dialogue between nations with common histories.  And as the Baltic countries move forward and begin reexamining outdated approaches, this dialogue will hopefully serve as a foundation for better plotting criminal policies that serve their citizens.