The Impact of Drug Decriminalization on Organized Crime in the Czech Republic

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:06
Oral Presentation
Kathryn GUDMUNSON, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
After gaining independence in 1989, the Czech Republic decriminalized possession of drugs as part of a range of judicial reforms rejecting the authoritarian nature of the previous Communist government. Unlike most nations that have experimented with this type of policy, there was no differentiation between hard and soft drugs, placing it among the most progressive drug policies in the world. However, there was a negative side to these socially progressive policies. The open borders that came with independence brought new drugs into the region, as well as new trafficking groups which took advantage of the government’s liberal stance on drugs. To combat these unintended consequences, the policy has been modified twice. The first shift was the criminalization of possession in amounts ‘greater than small’ in 1999; the second, the setting of threshold limits for possession of each substance in 2010. These major changes were accompanied by variations in penalty severity for drug crimes. This study evaluated the impacts of the drug policy changes on drug-related organized crime.

Using official crime rate data, documentary analysis, and semi-structured interviews with key figures in Czech drug policy, a longitudinal study was undertaken to examine how organized and drug-related crime changed under each policy shift. Changes in the demographics of organized criminal groups and those convicted of trafficking crimes were also analyzed. Initial findings indicate that threshold limits on drug decriminalization lead to an increase in serious drug crime prosecutions, but not organized crime prosecutions. Yet, members of certain foreign populations associated with organized crime, notably the Vietnamese diaspora, do have increased rates of arrest and receive harsher sentencing than Czech nationals. While some reasons for this discrepancy have been suggested in interviews, analysis is ongoing and will be further elucidated prior to this presentation.