The UN drug control conventions – The limits of latitude

There is also latitude in the treaties which allows parties to provide social support instead of punishment for those caught up in minor drug offences out of socio-economic necessity and the lack of alternative livelihood options. The 1988 Convention introduced the provision to allow health or social services ‘as alternatives to conviction or punishment’ for offences of a minor nature, not only in cases where the offender is dependent on drugs, but for anyone involved in minor drug offences.89 This compensates for the stricter provisions in the treaty that call for harsher penalties for more serious offences and allows for greater scope than currently utilised to introduce proportionality principles in sentencing for low-level drug offences such as small-scale cultivation, street dealing or courier smuggling. This provides a legal basis for alternative development programmes with subsistence farmers, and it could also be applied to micro-traders, a group for which this policy option is rarely considered.
  • Flexibilities in the UN drug conventions
  • Proportionality of sentencing
  • Alternatives to punishment
Only ‘in appropriate cases of a minor nature the Parties may provide, as alternatives to conviction or punishment, measures such as education, rehabilitation or social reintegration, as well as, when the offender is a drug abuser, treatment and aftercare’ (1988 Convention, article 3, §4, c). The earlier treaties had allowed such alternatives for ‘drug abusers’, but the 1988 Convention did significantly ‘widen the scope of application to drug offenders in general, whether drug abusers or not.’ 86  The fact that the definition of what constitutes a ‘minor nature’ is left to the discretion of national authorities, leaves considerable room for manoeuvre to apply principles of proportionality in national sentencing guidelines.
  • Proportionality of sentencing

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