While think tanks have been engaged in myriad of topics throughout Central and Eastern Europe, there are a few where their engagement has been exception rather than a regular happenstance. Drug policy is one of these topics. In a recent conversation with Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of Open Society Foundations Global Drugs Policy Program, we looked at ways how to raise the interest of think tanks to engage in this subject from perspective of a mainstream actor/analyst. To this end, she has written the following blog post about her latest very positive experience working with Institute for Policy Affairs in Poland.
…In 2000, Poland introduced a law that penalized the possession of any quantity of illicit substances. Ten years later, the Institute of Public Affairs, a leading Polish think tank and an OSF grantee, published ‘ Drug Policy in Poland – time for a change’ a report evaluating the financial costs of this law.
The report found that the implementation of the law cost over EUR 20 million per year, with possession offences rocketing from 2,815 in 2001 to 30,548 in 2008. Yet the majority of prosecutors, probation officers, police officers and judges interviewed for the study felt that enforcing the bill did not help reduce drug use or counter-act trafficking. Among the report’s key recommendations is to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs, and redirect the huge resources spent on law enforcement to treatment and harm reduction programs.
Ahead of a parliamentary debate in 2011, the report served as a powerful reference point for groups calling for the liberalization of Poland’s tough drug laws, and was frequently referred to in the national media. The debate ended with an amendment to Poland’s drug policy in May 2011, which aims to draw a greater distinction between drug user and drug dealer. At that time the situation was as follows:
Ahead of a visit from Barack Obama, Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski has signed an amendment to his country’s drug law. The newly amended law, approved on Wednesday, May 25, is a small step forward in liberalizing Poland’s drug policy. It aims to draw a greater distinction between drug user and drug dealer. For example, public prosecutors will now have the option of not bringing people to court on possession charges under three circumstances: if the quantity is small, if it is a first-time drug offense, or if the person has a drug dependency.
This change is largely thanks to ongoing advocacy by Polish and international civil society groups. The next steps will be to ensure that prosecutors are aware of these exceptions and that they are used, as experience from other countries shows that amendments often go unnoticed. Also, on the basis of the Czech Republic’s experience, threshold quantities of illicit drugs should be drawn up with the aim of focusing a public debate on decriminalization.
Read more on the changes to Poland’s drug law and the civil society organizations behind it. (Taken from blog entry Poland steps toward more liberal drug policyby Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of OSF Global Drugs Program
This example from Poland shows the crucial role that a think tank can play in social change by providing clear economic and sociological data. However, for such a study to have greater impact, it is important to place the data within a regional context that will have more meaning to policymakers and the public worldwide. This could, for example, involve producing a set of cost-benefits analyses of national drug polices similar to that conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs.
I encourage all interested think tanks that face similar challenges in their own countries in to get in touch with my colleagues at the Global Drug Policy Program.