Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski became the latest in a long line of former heads of state to call for decriminalization or liberalization of drug laws. Kwasniewski’s New York Times op-ed was rather tepid, though it did call for “a halt to incarcerating people for possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use.”
In 2000, Kwasniweski signed into law some of the most repressive drug laws in Europe, or, as the ex-president characterizes it, “one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession.” Though in 2005 Poland had lower crime victimization rates than England, Sweden or the Netherlands, there were more than 80,000 people in prison in Poland in 2005, up from just under 55,000 in 1998. The growth in prison population surpassed general population growth considerably. Kwasniewski himself notes cases of drug possession rose from 2,815 in 2000 to 30,548 in 2008.
Much like President Obama, Kwasniewski invoked the paradigm of “drug use as public health,” lumping in pot users with heroin addicts. Accordingly, the former Polish president blames his law for “propelling the spread of H.I.V. among people who inject [drugs].” Interestingly, a 2002 report on the then-new drug law in Poland via the Drug Policy Alliance noted:
Under the new legislation, police are now authorized to arrest and prosecute those found possessing any quantity of illicit drugs. However, in reality the police are very hesitant to enforce this law for fear that the drug user is infected with HIV or AIDS.
Poland decriminalized the possession of small amounts of some narcotics last year, sort of, and Kwasniewski was joined by Poland’s first democratically elected president, Lech Wałęsa, and 62 other public figures and former heads of state in signing an open letter calling for a new approach to drug policy worldwide.
Meanwhile here at home, despite campaign and post-campaign promises to the contrary, President Obama continues his crackdown on medical marijuana while for Mitt Romney it is not an “issue of significance,” leaving the issue of non-medical marijuana and other narcotics in the war on drugs completely off the table for the major two parties.
Maybe Barack Obama will eventually “evolve” on his stance on the war on drugs, but we’ll probably have to wait until 2013 or 2017; the fashion seems to be for former heads of state to support drug policy reforms, not current ones.
Read Reason's Lucy Steigerwald on the brouhaha over drug reform at last month's Latin American regional summit.