Trends and Policies Regarding Drug Supply and Possession Offenses in the EU, 2016

Crime, Courts, and Prisons

"Member States take measures to prevent the supply of illicit drugs under three United Nations Conventions, which provide an international framework for control of production, trade and possession of over 240 psychoactive substances. Each country is obliged to treat drug trafficking as a criminal offence, but the penalties written in the law vary between states. In some countries, drug supply offences may be subject to a single wide penalty range, while other countries differentiate between minor and major supply offences with corresponding penalty ranges.
"Each country is also obliged to treat possession of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence, but subject to a country’s ‘constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system’. This clause has not been uniformly interpreted, and this is reflected in different legal approaches in European countries and elsewhere. Since around 2000, there has been an overall trend across Europe towards reducing the likelihood of imprisonment or other incarceration for minor offences related to personal drug use. Some countries have gone further, so that possession of drugs for personal use can only be punished by non-criminal sanctions, usually a fine (Figure 1.14).
"The implementation of laws to curb drug supply and use is monitored through data on reported drug law offences. In the European Union, there were an estimated 1.6 million offences reported (most of them related to cannabis; 57%) in 2014, involving around 1 million offenders. Reported offences increased by almost a third (34%) between 2006 and 2014.
"In most European countries, the majority of reported drug law offences relate to use or possession for use. In Europe, overall, it is estimated that more than 1 million of these offences were reported in 2014, a 24% increase compared with 2006. Of the reported drug offences related to possession, more than three-quarters involve cannabis. The upward trends in offences for cannabis, amphetamines and MDMA possession have continued in 2014 (Figure 1.15).
"Overall, reports of drug supply offences have increased by 10% since 2006, reaching an estimate of more than 214,000 cases in 2014. As with possession offences, cannabis accounted for the majority. Cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, however, accounted for a larger share of offences for supply than for personal possession. The downward trends in offences for heroin and cocaine supply have not continued into 2014, and there has been a sharp increase in reports of supply offences for MDMA (Figure 1.15)."


European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2016), European Drug Report 2016: Trends and Developments, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, pp. 33-34.