The recent attempts to get tougher on serious crime in Lithuania also saw harsher punishments introduced for merely sharing small amounts of narcotic substances.
Selling = sharing with friends?
This came about following the adoption of amendments to the Penal Code that eliminated the possibility of suspended sentences for serious crimes. Although the amendments purportedly seek to tackle corruption offences, the distribution of small quantities of narcotics is also classified as a serious crime in Lithuania.
According to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania, the distribution of small amounts of narcotic substances is punishable by imprisonment from 2 to 8 years, with distribution of large quantities being punishable with imprisonment from 8 to 10 years.
The law does not distinguish distribution for profit from sharing in a group of friends. Thus, sharing a little bit of cannabis is technically a serious crime. Since the amendments eliminated the possibility of suspended sentences, the courts in such cases would be forced to hand out real prison sentences.
Possession of narcotic substances is also against the law in Lithuania – having a small amount of narcotic substances for personal use is punishable by a fine, arrest or imprisonment for up to 2 years. Previously, possession also carried administrative penalties, but this was abolished from 2017 onwards.
The above amendments received a lot of flak. „Such laws are destroying people’s lives. Prevention is perfectly possible with less draconian measures,” said judge A. Cininas, who opposed the amendments.
He claims that there is no differentiation of punishment both when it comes to distribution and transmission. Teenagers who import a small amount of drugs are charged with smuggling, which carries a prison sentence between 3 and 10 years.
In cases like these, the prosecution and judges usually go for non-custodial sentences. After these reforms, suspension of sentences will still be possible, but it will depend on judicial discretion to apply exceptions and give more lenient sentences.
Liberal politicians have already registered amendments to differentiate penalties, as well as decriminalise possession of narcotic substances and their sharing among friends. According to A. Armonaitė, the MP who tabled these amendments, the current penalties are unreasonable and disproportionate. Instead, more lenient sanctions (warnings and administrative fines) should be applied in cases like this.
The Lithuanian minister of health was also in favour of this suggestion.
Ruling Farmers Party against softer sentences
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union thinks that politicians should follow the principle of zero tolerance to drugs. He is also firmly opposed to changing the law to soften the penalties for the distribution and consumption of small amounts of drugs.
On 2 December, 2017, several hundred activists held a protest in front of the Lithuanian Parliament, during which expressed their disapproval of harsh penalties and demanded decriminalization of possession of small amount of drugs.