Series on Legislative Reform of Drug Policies Nr. 20
Proportionality is one of the key principles of the rule of law aiming to protect people from cruel or inhumane treatment. The principle has been established in international and regional human rights agreements and many countries have adopted reflections of it in their constitution or penal code. Its application to drug-related offences is firstly the responsibility of the legislators, in defining the level of penalisation of certain behaviours. The level of penalisation should be determined according to the severity of damage that a certain behaviour causes to others or to society.
In the second instance, the courts and judges have to apply the principle of proportionality in defining the appropriate punishment for a particular case; and finally, proportionality also plays a role in the execution of this punishment. This briefing paper looks at specific criteria of proportionality developed in the context of drug control and describes a number of recent attempts to recalibrate the often grossly disproportionate nature of current drug laws and their enforcement around the world.
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