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Poland battles synthetic pot boom

Dubious law meant to counter synthetic marijuana could have broad application.

Tusk admitted that his crusade “could cause conflict between those rights guaranteed by the constitution and common decency.”

Despite the doubts over the law, very few politicians wanted to be accused of supporting drug dealers. Wlodzimierz Cimosiewciz, a member of the senate, the upper chamber of parliament, and a former prime minister, was the only senator to vote against the bill, saying: “It is a bad law, passed in an atmosphere of hysteria.”

However, swift action helped cement Tusk's law-and-order credentials before local government elections last week, which confirmed his Civic Platform party as Poland's dominant political force.

“Closing the afterburner shops is an example of naive populism,” said Janusz Palikot, a rogue member of Tusk's party who is now trying to start his own party based on a libertarian and anti-clerical program, noting that Poland's drug users will simply go underground.

Although hundreds of shops around the country have been closed, those wanting to buy afterburners can still do so by ordering them from European Union countries where they are legal.

Poland has one of the European Union's toughest drug laws, although it does not seem to have made much of a dent in usage. The law, changed in 2000, bans any amount of drugs. However, not all countries in the region take the same approach. As of Jan. 1, neighboring Czech Republic allows people to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana and 1.5 grams of heroin without facing criminal charges, one of the most liberal laws in Europe.

The Czechs have not legalized the sale of drugs — which is why a coffee shops like those in Amsterdam have not sprung up in Prague. However, ready access to soft drugs has spurred a border trade with Poland, as young people make quick hops over the border to buy.

“The Czechs are sending us entirely the wrong message,” lamented a Warsaw middle school director who is implementing a policy of mandatory urine testing for his students.