Assessing the impact of laws controlling the online availability of 25I-NBOMe, AH-7921, MDPV and MXE – outcomes of a semi-automated e-shop monitoring. Drugs: education, prevention and policy
Aims: Variations in drug laws, as well as variations in enforcement practice, exist across jurisdictions. This study explored the feasibility of categorising drug laws “on the books” in terms of their punitiveness, and the extent of their concordance with “laws in practice” in a cross-national comparison and over time.
Methods: “Law on the books”, classified with respect to both cannabis and other drug offences in the Czech Republic, NSW (AU) and Florida (USA) were analysed in order to establish an ordinal relationship between the three states. Indicators to assess the “laws in practice” covered both police (arrests) and court (sentencing) activity between 2002 and 2013. Parametric and non-parametric tests of equality of means and tests of stationarity were used to examine the concordance between the ordinal categorisation of “laws on the books” and the level of enforcement activity (“laws in practice”).
Results: The Czech Republic had the most lenient drug laws; Florida had the most punitive and NSW was in-between. Examining the indicators of “laws in practice” for drug arrests and imprisonment, we found that the population adjusted number of cases presented at courts and the number receiving sentences for imprisonment were concordant with categorisation of “laws on the books”, but the average sentence length and percentage of court cases sentenced to prison were not. Despite the decriminalisation established in the Czech Republic and NSW, increase in criminal arrests for the respective crimes over time was observed.
Conclusions: While some indicators of “laws in practice” were concordant with the ordinal categorisation of drug laws, several indicators of “laws in practice” appeared to operate independently from the drug laws as stated. This has significant implications for drug policy analysis and means that research should not assume they are interchangeable and should consider each separately when designing research.
This work was awarded the EMCDDA scientific award in 2018 in the category 'Drug policy and supply reduction interventions'.