The harshest hash laws in Europe

Stephen Andrews
16 Oct 2021

Where in Europe, possession of marijuana can land you more time in jail than committing a murder? You must think, you are joking, right! Actually, it's not a joke! It's life-ruining. In Slovakia, in some cases, when a person is caught with pot, the outcomes are so bleak that's even hard to believe it's true. A sentence for carrying or using drugs can be lengthier than for manslaughter. While there are ongoing campaigns for this landlocked eastern European country to amend its law to milder punishments, a majority of people and its highest political circles have largely remained unified on the matter. Decriminalisation is not on the schedule.

Slovak law dictates that if someone is caught with marijuana for the first time, they can end up jailed for up to three years if it is for their personal use. The judge can still opt to suspend the sentence and impose a fine or community service. 

Of course, it depends on the amount of pot seized by police. Upon estimating the worth of the stash on the black market, if the police find the quantity costs over EUR 2,660 (£2,243), a person can be charged with up to five years in prison. 

A person can be punished anywhere between three and ten years in prison if found guilty of producing, transporting or selling marijuana. 

Punishments are all the more draconic for repeat offenders. When a person is arrested for weed more than once, the jail sentence is between 10 and 15 years. 

According to an article from the project Reporting Democracies, published on the website of Balkan Insight, and written by Nina Hrabovska Francelova, when in 2019 Slovak police raided a pub in the city of Košice, a man in his twenties by the name of Robert Džunko was found to have 7.7 grams of pot on him. The man is still held in custody. This is because it was not the first time Džunko was found carrying marijuana around. When he was caught with 12 grams in 2017, he received a suspended sentence of 30 months.

"As he awaits a final verdict, the 27-year-old faces an additional 12.5-year prison sentence. If that sentence is handed down, and with his suspended sentence added, by the time he gets out he will have served 15 years in prison for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana," writes Francelova. 

In shocking contrast, Slovak authorities handed a nine years jail term in the case of Juraj Hossu, who was found guilty of manslaughter in the capital of Bratislava in 2018. So, yes, you read that correctly. According to these two court cases, in Slovakia, a person can get less time in jail for committing a murder than a person who has 20 grams of marijuana on them. 

In most states across the USA and the world, where marijuana has been decriminalised for adult use, possessing up to 20 grams is usually within the allowed limit of how much a person can carry with them. 

However, Slovak legislation is such rigid that it doesn't even distinguish between soft and hard drugs. All drugs are just in the same category and carry the same weight to the criminal judicial system. The same goes for repeat offences. The law doesn't distinguish between a user or a dealer of drugs.

In the case of the young man Robert Džunko, his family and friends have launched an initiative called "Sloboda pre Roba" (Freedom for Robo), which highlights Robert's story and subsequently other marijuana convicts who have received similar strident treatment from the country's justice system. The campaign aims to raise awareness among the public.

When it comes to changing marijuana laws in Slovakia, most of the talk seems like empty promises. 

As early as 2012, the then-incoming Slovak prime minister Robert Fico said that he might push for partial legalisation of cannabis possession and relax rules to allow up to three doses of cannabis for personal use. 

In 2018, the then-Minister of Justice, Lucia Žitňanská, lobbied for partial decriminalisation of drugs. Žitňanská's proposal said: "For the first time, possession of a small amount of a drug should be punished as a misdemeanour and only in the case of repeated violations of the law within 12 months as a criminal offence. Under the age of 18, in addition to a fine, medical diagnosis, social counselling and, where appropriate, drug treatment should be automatically ordered". Government parties failed to agree on the partial decriminalisation, however. 

Few more attempts to change Slovak law has followed since 2018, including in early 2021, but the country's politicians have not yet been willing to reach an agreement. 

Disappointing is also the public view of marijuana in the country. According to a survey that asked 1,014 respondents whether they support milder sentences for marijuana, two-thirds of Slovaks answered they did not support a measure where people using marijuana are only penalised financially. Only about one-third said they would support milder punishments. The survey results were published in November last year.

If you need more proof that Slovakia is the Dubai of Europe when it comes to strict drugs policies, it's the last member state of the European Union to have removed CBD from the list of controlled substances. In other words, to formally acknowledge, only earlier this year, that CBC is non-psychotropic. 

Stephen Andrews