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Drug policy

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Title: Drug policy  
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Subject: Drug policy of Sweden, Drug policy of Canada, Alcoholic beverage, Public policy by country, Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice
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Drug policy

A drug policy is the policy, usually of a government,[1] regarding the control and regulation of drugs considered dangerous, particularly those which are addictive. Governments try to combat drug addiction with policies which address both the demand and supply of drugs, as well as policies which can mitigate the harms of drug abuse, and for medical treatment. Demand reduction measures include prohibition, fines for drug offenses, incarceration for persons convicted for drug offenses, treatment (such as voluntary rehabilitation, coercive care,[2] or supply on medical prescription for drug abusers), awareness campaigns, community social services, and support for families. Supply side reduction involves measures such as enacting foreign policy aimed at eradicating the international cultivation of plants used to make drugs and interception of drug trafficking. Policies which may help mitigate the effects of drug abuse include needle exchange and drug substitution programs, as well as free facilities for testing a drug's purity.

Drugs subject to control vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, heroin is regulated almost everywhere; substances such as qat, codeine and even Tamiflu are regulated in some places,[3] but not others.

Most jurisdictions also regulate prescription drugs, medicinal drugs not considered dangerous but that can only be supplied to holders of a medical prescription, and sometimes drugs available without prescription but only from an approved supplier such as a pharmacy, but this is not usually described as a "drug policy".

International treaties

The International Opium Convention, signed in 1912 during the First International Opium Conference, was the first international drug control treaty. It went into force globally in 1919 when it was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. A revised Convention was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series in 1928. It also imposed some restrictions—not total prohibition—on the export of Indian hemp (cannabis sativa forma indica). In 1961 it was superseded by the international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to control global drug trading and use. The Convention banned countries from treating addicts by prescribing illegal substances, allowing only scientific and medical uses of drugs. It did not detail precise drug laws and was not itself binding on countries, which had to pass their own legislation in conformance with the principles of the Convention.[4]

Drug policy by country


Australian drug laws are criminal laws and mostly exist at the state and territory level, not the federal, and are therefore different, which means an analysis of trends and laws for Australia is complicated. The federal jurisdiction has enforcement powers over national borders.



Compared with other EU countries the drug policy of Germany is considered to be rather progressive but still stricter than, for example, in the Netherlands. In 1994 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that drug addiction was not a crime, as was the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. In 2000 the German narcotic law ("BtmG") was changed to allow for supervised drug-injection rooms. In 2002, a pilot study was started in seven German cities to evaluate the effects of heroin-assisted treatment on addicts, compared to methadone-assisted treatment. The positive results of the study led to the inclusion of heroin-assisted treatment into the services of the mandatory health insurance in 2009.



Liberia prohibits drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. Its drug laws are enforced by the Drug Enforcement Agency.[5]


Cannabis coffee shop in the city center of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Drug policy in the Netherlands is based on the two principles that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and that there is a distinction between hard and soft drugs. The reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands, as a proportion of the entire population, is one of the lowest of the EU.[6] The Netherlands is currently the only country to have implemented a wide scale, but still regulated, decriminalisation of marijuana. It was also one of the first countries to introduce heroin-assisted treatment and safe injection sites.[7] From 2008, a number of town councils have closed many so called coffee shops that sold cannabis or implemented other new restrictions for sale of cannabis, e.g. for foreigners.[8][9]

Importing and exporting of any classified drug is a serious offence. The penalty can run up to 12 to 16 years if it is for hard drugs, or a maximum of 4 years for importing or exporting large quantities of cannabis. Investment in treatment and prevention of drug addiction is high when compared to the rest of the world. The Netherlands spends significantly more per capita than all other countries in the EU on drug law enforcement. 75% of drug-related public spending is on law enforcement. Drug use remains at average Western European levels and slightly lower than in English speaking countries.


According to article 8 of the Constitution of Peru, the state is responsible for battling and punishing drug trafficking. Likewise, it regulates the use of intoxicants. Consumption of drugs is not penalized and possession is allowed for small quantities only. Production and distribution of drugs are illegal.


In July 2001, a law maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. The offense was however changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the possessing was no more than up to ten days' supply of that substance.[10] This was in line with the de facto Portuguese drug policy before the reform. Drug addicts were then to be aggressively targeted with therapy or community service rather than fines or waivers.[11] Even if there are no criminal penalties, these changes did not legalize drug use in Portugal. Possession has remained prohibited by Portuguese law, and criminal penalties are still applied to drug growers, dealers and traffickers.[12]


Sweden's drug policy has gradually turned from lenient in the 1960s with an emphasis on drug supply towards a policy of zero tolerance against all illicit drug use (including cannabis). The official aim is a drug-free society. Drug use itself became a punishable crime in 1988; personal usage does not result in jail time if it is not in combination with driving a car.[13] Prevention includes widespread drug testing, and the penalties range from fines for minor drug offenses up to a 10-year prison sentence for aggravated offenses. The condition for suspended sentences could be regular drug tests or submission to rehabilitation treatment. Drug treatment is free of charge and provided through the health care system and the municipal social services. Drug usage that threatens the health and development of minors could force them into mandatory treatment if they don't apply voluntary. If the usage threatens the immediate health or the security of others (such as a child of an addict) the same could apply to adults.

Among 9th year students, drug experimentation was highest in the early 1970s, falling towards a low in the late 1980s, redoubling in the 1990s to stabilize and slowly decline in 2000s. Estimates of heavy drug addicts have risen from 6000 in 1967 to 15000 in 1979, 19000 in 1992 and 26000 in 1998. According to inpatient data, there were 28000 such addicts in 2001 and 26000 in 2004, but these last two figures may represent the recent trend in Sweden towards out-patient treatment of drug addicts rather than an actual decline in drug addictions.[14]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Sweden has one of the lowest drug usage rates in the Western world, and attributes this to a drug policy that invests heavily in prevention and treatment as well as strict law enforcement.[15] The general drug policy is supported by all political parties and, according to the opinion polls, the restrictive approach receives broad support from the public.[16][17] The UNODC report, has been criticized for being unscientific and fundamentally biased in favor of repressive drug laws, and that no causal connection has been shown to exist between Sweden's drug use statistics and its drugs policy.[18]


The national drug policy of Switzerland was developed in the early 1990s and comprises the four elements of prevention, therapy, harm reduction and prohibition.[19] In 1994 Switzerland was one of the first countries to try heroin-assisted treatment and other harm reduction measures like supervised injection rooms. In 2008 a popular initiative by the right wing Swiss People's Party aimed at ending the heroin program was rejected by more than two thirds of the voters. A simultaneous initiative aimed at legalizing marijuana was rejected at the same ballot.

Between 1987 and 1992, illegal drug use and sales were permitted in Platzspitz park, Zurich, in an attempt to counter the growing heroin problem. However as the situation grew increasingly out of control, authorities were forced to close the park.

United Kingdom

Drugs considered addictive or dangerous in the United Kingdom are called "controlled substances" and regulated by law. Until 1964 the medical treatment of dependent drug users was separated from the punishment of unregulated use and supply. This arrangement was confirmed by the Rolleston Committee in 1926. This policy on drugs, known as the "British system", was maintained in Britain, and nowhere else, until the 1960s. Under this policy drug use remained low; there was relatively little recreational use and few dependent users, who were prescribed drugs by their doctors as part of their treatment. From 1964 drug use was increasingly criminalised, with the framework still in place as of 2014 largely determined by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.[20]:13–14

United States

Modern US drug policy has still roots in the war on drugs started by president Richard Nixon in 1971. In the United States, illegal drugs fall into different categories and punishment for possession and dealing varies on amount and type. Punishment for marijuana possession is light in most states, but punishment for dealing and possession of hard drugs can be severe, and has contributed to the growth of the prison population.

US drug policy is also heavily invested in foreign policy, supporting military and paramilitary actions in South America, Central Asia, and other places to eradicate the growth of Mexico, initiating the Mérida Initiative, but has faced criticisms for similar reasons.

May 21, 2012 the U.S Government published an updated version of its Drug Policy[21] The director of ONDCP stated simultaneously that this policy is something different than "War on Drugs":

  • The U.S Government see the policy as a “third way” approach to drug control one that is based on the results of a huge investment in research from some of the world’s preeminent scholars on disease of substance abuse.
  • The policy does not see drug legalization as the “silver bullet” solution to drug control.
  • It is not a policy where success is measured by the number of arrests made or prisons built.[22]

The U.S. government generates grants to develop and disseminate evidence based addiction treatments.[23] These grants have developed several practices that NIDA endorses such as community reinforcement approach and community reinforcement and family training approach,[24] which are behavior therapy interventions.

See also


  1. ^ Entities at all levels, from international organisations, national governments, local government departments, down to individual night clubs, may have stated drug policies.
  2. ^ Tännsjö, T. (1999). Coercive Care. 
  3. ^ Banned Drugs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (codeine and Tamiflu are included)
  4. ^ BBC: The UK's Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), 19 February 2009
  5. ^ DEA Destroys Over LD$10 Million Drugs, AllAfrica, 2011-10-04. Accessed 2012-06-03.
  6. ^ EMCDDA Annual Report 2009, page 84
  7. ^ Fischer B, Oviedo-Joekes E, Blanken P, et al. (July 2007). "Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) a decade later: a brief update on science and politics". J Urban Health 84 (4): 552–62.  
  8. ^ AFP: Dutch towns close coffee shops in 'drug tourists' crackdown, Oct 24, 2008
  9. ^ "Selling soft drugs is not a right even in the Netherlands"
  10. ^ EMCDDA: Drug policy profiles, Portugal, June 2011
  11. ^ "Portugal legalizes drug use". BBC News. 7 July 2000. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Lawline: Påföljd vid ringa narkotikabrott, 2007-04-21
  14. ^ CAN:Drug Trends in Sweden 2007, page 7-11
  15. ^ UNODC: Sweden's successful drug policy, 2007
  16. ^ European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: National report Sweden, 2006
  17. ^ NATIONAL DRUG POLICY: SWEDEN Prepared for The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canada 2002.
  18. ^ Peter Cohen: Looking at the UN, smelling a rat: A comment on ‘Sweden’s successful drug policy: a review of the evidence’ UNODC september 2006
  19. ^ Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. "Drug policy". Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  20. ^ An Analysis of UK Drug Policy - A Monograph Prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission, Peter Reuter, University of Maryland, Alex Stevens, University of Kent, April 2007
  21. ^ Principles of Modern Drug Policy.
  22. ^ Statement of the Government of the United States of America World Federation Against Drugs 3rd World Forum, May 21, 2012, Stockholm, Sweden. (September 21, 2012).
  23. ^ Milford, J.L. Austin, J.L. and Smith, J.E.(2007). Community Reinforcement and the Dissemination of Evidence-based Practice: Implications for Public Policy. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 3(1), 77-87 BAO
  24. ^ Meyers, R.J., Smith, J.E. & Lash, D.N. (2005): A Program for Engaging Treatment-Refusing Substance Abusers into Treatment: CRAFT. IJBCT, 1(2), Page 90 -100 BAO

External links


  • Cato Institute Drug Prohibition Research - Research by an American think-tank looking at drug prohibition from a libertarian perspective.
  • Drug Policy Alliance - the largest drug policy reform advocacy group in America. Largely responsible for the legalization of medical marijuana in Mexico.
  • European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) - a European organisation producing reports on drug policy in EU countries.
  • Transform Drug Policy Foundation - a UK-based think-tank for the control and regulation of drugs.
  • National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - an American campaign for the legalization of Marijuana.
  • Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) - a mainly American-based federation of retired law enforcement professionals campaigning against drug prohibition.
  • Re:Vision Drug Policy Network - a UK-based drug policy organisation working with young people against drug prohibition.
  • World Federation Against Drugs - a multilateral community of non-governmental organizations that work for a drug-free world and support drug prohibitions.
  • Students for Sensible Drug Policy - an international grassroots network of students who work to promote more sensible drug policies and against drug prohibition.

Articles and videos

  • EMCDDA - Decriminalisation in Europe? Recent developments in legal approaches to drug use.
  • Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy Full text of major government commission reports on the drug laws from around the world over the last 100 years
  • 10 Downing Street's Strategy Unit Drugs Report
  • Frontline: drug wars by PBS
  • by Milton FriedmanThe Drug War as a Socialist Enterprise
  • Nobel Prize in Economics winner Milton Friedman interviewed about his opposition to the War on Drugs
  • The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs—1972
  • National Drug Threat Assessment 2006 from the United States Department of Justice

Academic articles

  • Re-thinking drug control policy - Historical perspectives and conceptual tools by Peter Cohen
  • Policy from a harm reduction perspective (journal article)
  • Global drug prohibition: its uses and crises (journal article)
  • Should cannabis be taxed and regulated? (journal article)
  • Shifting the main purposes of drug control: from suppression to regulation of use
  • Setting goals for drug policy: harm or use reduction?
  • Prohibition, pragmatism and drug policy repatriation
  • Challenging the UN drug control conventions: problems and possibilities
  • The Economics of Drug Legalization
  • Britain on drugs (journal article)
  • Laws and the Construction of Drug- and Gender-Related Violence in Central America by Peter Peetz
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