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Drugnet Europe News from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction — January–March 2011

Drugs-Lex

Poland passes new law to control ‘head shops’ and ‘legal highs’

A new law entered into force in Poland on 27 November, eliminating the open sale of psychoactive substances not controlled under drug laws (‘legal highs’) (1). The new law came in the wake of 3 500 inspections by the Polish police and state sanitary inspectors in October 2010, resulting in the closure of 1 200 ‘head shops’ (2). The inspections had been prompted by reports from Polish hospitals in the second half of 2010 of poisonings apparently caused by these substances.

As is the case with a law passed on ‘head shops’ in Ireland in August 2010, the new Polish legislation penalises suppliers rather than users. While the law in Ireland adopts a criminal-law-enforcement stance, the new law in Poland takes a health-protection approach. It modifies two existing legislative acts.

Article 1 of the new law modifies the ‘Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction’. Essentially the revised legislation prohibits the manufacture, advertising and introduction of ‘substitute drugs’
into circulation (3). The penalty for manufacturing such drugs or introducing them into circulation is a fine by the state sanitary inspector of between 20 000 and one million Polish złoty (± EUR 5 000 to 250 000). The penalty for advertising them is up to one year in prison. (The law makes no specific reference to whether the drug should first be considered as harmful).

Article 2 of the new law modifies the ‘Act on State Sanitary Inspection’. Previously the state sanitary inspectors were empowered to act against any ‘failure to meet hygiene and health
requirements’. As a result of the modification, they now have the specific right to withdraw from trade a ‘substitute drug’ for up to 18 months in order to assess its safety, if there is a justified
suspicion that it might pose a threat to life or health. The costs of the assessment are met by the distributor in the event that the drug is harmful. If the drug is found to be harmless, the cost will be reimbursed by the state. The inspectors also have the right to close premises for up to three months.

Brendan Hughes and Artur Malczewski

(1) Act of 8 October 2010 (Dz.U. z 2010 nr 213 poz. 1396) 

(2) Retail outlets specialised in ‘legal highs’ and drug paraphernalia.

(3) The term ‘substitute drug’ is redefined in the new law as a substance or plant used instead of, or for the same purposes as, a controlled drug, and whose manufacture or placing on the market is not regulated by separate provisions.


Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.

Page last updated: Thursday, 24 March 2011