Lithuania’s strict drug laws were brought into spotlight this week after they hit a well-known and respected businesswoman.
This week, discussions on drug laws were ignited by a story about Živilė Diawara, a co-founder and manager of the music venue Loftas in Vilnius. According to media reports, the police put her in detention overnight after finding a small amount of cannabis and suspected hallucinogenic mushrooms in her possession.
While Diawara herself has not made comments to the media, the case was picked up by some politicians.
“This policy, this guillotine, is disproportionate – the police raid, detain, put in jail, strip-search. This was a special operation against a specific person and it is finally becoming clear to the majority of the public that, well, this is not a member of the criminal world,” says Morgana Danielė, a liberal MP and chair of the Parliamentary Commission for the Prevention of Addiction.
The Freedom Party she is a member of made decriminalising light drugs a centrepiece of its 2020 electoral platform. Lithuania has excessively harsh drug laws, they argued, where possessing even small amounts of light drugs can lead to criminal charges
This Wednesday, the parliament took a step in that direction when the Committee on Law approved amendments that would decriminalise the possession of small amounts of cannabis without the intention to distribute.
It would be redefined as an administrative offence subject to a fine of between 30 and 250 euros or up to 400 for repeated offences.
All the members of the ruling conservative-liberal coalition in the committee approved the amendments, as did some opposition MPs.
The only one who opposed was Agnė Širinskienė, who says the changes will lead to an increase in drug use.
A fine of 30 euros – which is likely to be cut in half for first offense – is not enough to deter would-be users, argues Širinskienė, a member of the Party of Regions faction.
“This is less than a lunch in an average restaurant in Vilnius. It is certainly likely that we will have an outbreak [of drug use], because for a drug user, a fine of 15 euros will not motivate to seek treatment or socialisation programmes,” Širinskienė says.
However, this is not the reason to put people in jail for a joint, argues MP Stasys Šedbaras, chair of the Committee on Law.
“We need to help, not punish, because addiction is a disease. If a person doesn’t want to, he hasn’t hit the rock bottom […], no amount of fines and no amount of penalties will change that person’s fate,” he said.
The Prosecutor General’s Office says that Lithuania is not ready for the decriminalisation of light drugs.
“In order to ensure a healthier society, prevention, rehabilitation and treatment need to be addressed first. Today we are not ready for this. There aren’t enough arguments why cannabis in particular should be singled out [for decriminalisation] from all other psychotropic substances,” said Gintas Ivanauskas, deputy head of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The initiator of the project, Freedom Party leader and Economy Minister Aušrinė Armonaitė, explains that a previous proposal on decriminalising all light drugs was rejected by the parliament.
“This is just an interim solution, as we are moving towards a full one, which is why we are only talking about decriminalising cannabis,” she said.
If the amendment is adopted, the Ministry of Healthcare will determine what constitutes a small quantity. Moreover, if a person hands over cannabis to the authorities willingly or seeks treatment, they will not face a fine.