DrugReporter, 20 February 2012, by Peter Sarosi

The HCLU is fighting the proposal of the government to criminalize more young people for drug related offences.

The Conservative government of Viktor Orbán took office in 2010. In the first two years of its governance it used its two-third majority in the parliament to adopt a series of restrictive laws that gave much concern to European Union institutions. The a new media law limits the freedom of speech, the new election law makes it very hard for opposion parties to win the elections, and a modified new constitution means weaker protection of civil liberties. The Orban-administration is very hostile to those minorities deemed to be deviant by the majority, for example homeless people and people who use drugs. It is not an administrative offence to “use public places for living” and now a new Criminal Code would restrict sanctions against people who use drugs.

The current Hungarian legislation is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. There is no other EU member state that uses lifetime imprisonment without the possibility of parole for drug related offences. According to the Criminal Code, the simple possession of small amounts of drugs can be sanctioned with 2 years of imprisonment – but from 1993 there has been an alternative to incarceration. Criminal charges were dismissed in the case of those small scale drug offenders who agreed to participate in a 6 month prevention or treatment program. Now the government is trying to limit the access to alternative treatment: they claim only those offenders should be allowed to avoid criminal sanctions if they have had no previous offence in the past two years and are ready to fully cooperate with the authorities, that means, to confess whom they purchased the drug from. This change would hit drug users harder with a bigger chance of getting arrested multiple times within two years, either because they use more regularly, or they belong to a vulnerable group (for example, police stop Roma drug users more often than non-Roma people on the street). There is a lack of differentiation of drugs in the Hungarian Criminal Code, so a seller of cannabis is punished as strictly as the sellers of heroin. There is no difference between "social dealers" and traffickers, or medical or non-medical production of cannabis. 

In addition, drug users will be motivated to confess against their peers to avoid punishment – even if the person who has given them the drug is just a user as they are. The worst part of the proposed new legiaslation is that those people who share drugs even in a small quantity (e.g., passing a joint) will face 2-8 years of incarceration. Frankly, how many drug users do we know who have never sold drugs to their friends? The borderline between users and sellers is not as clear as the Conservatives think. The new proposal says that if a young person older than 18 years old possesses or acquires a single marijuana joint in the proximity of a school or dormitory should be punishable up to three years of impriosonment. Again, it is not life-like to punish teenagers for experimenting with drugs.

The government has allowed three weeks for social discussion of the proposed new Criminal Code, NGOs can send their expert opinions until March 9. The government is to submit the bill to the parliament later in March. The HCLU is in the forefront of the media debates now and tries to organize civil society resistance.

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