Since July 2013, Hungary has a new Penal Code that will significantly tighten penalties for drug-related crimes. While several civil and professional organisations have supported decriminalisation of drug use for many years – they don’t wish to punish consumers, but punish the dealers instead – the new code just moves in the opposite direction.
Penalize consumption, be stricter with addicts
Until 2013, drug use itself wasn’t punishable by law. Acquisition and possession of drug was already a crime, but since July the act of taking drugs has also become illegal. Drug consumption is considered as serious a crime as possessing a small amount of a controlled substance, so punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
Before July, a prison sentence could be avoided if the user agreed to enrol on a six-month course (this is typically preventive or awareness training), if it was a first drug offence. If the user could prove his participation in the course with a certificate within a year, the legal procedure was terminated and there would be no criminal record. Since July, this ‘last chance’ to avoid a conviction has been removed. If a user gets caught once, that user will be punished and have a criminal record.
For drug addicts the new Criminal Code applies stricter rules and imposes significantly higher penalties than the previous legislation. Previously, drug-dependent offenders could avoid prosecution and participate in the course if they were in possession of more than a ‘small’ quantity, but less than a ‘significant’ quantity for personal use only.
Users of designer drugs had previously avoided the law, but since July that has not been the case. Acquiring and also possessing ‘designer drugs’ are now criminal offenses; production, sales, importation or exportation to the country is punishable up to three years imprisonment, even if perpetrators can prove they were unaware that the incriminating substance was a ‘designer drug’.
Prison sentences for those caught out at school
According to the old Criminal Code, an 18-year-old who carried on him or acquired a small quantity of a drug in an educational establishment could take part in an awareness course. Under the new law, possession could mean up to three years imprisonment; an 18-year-old student passing a spliff to a 17-year-old classmate at a school party can be punished from between one and five years in jail.
Grass up the dealer and avoid punishment
The punishment of a drug user can be reduced or scrapped altogether if the user helps to reveal the person handing over the drug. The consequences of this new measure are still unpredictable. It’s still quite common in Hungary that suspected dealers are convicted simply on the strength of a testimony – if a consumer confesses that he purchased the drug from a particular person, that person can be convicted even without being caught in possession of drugs.