Faced with both a public health crisis and a public relations disaster, Portugal’s elected officials took a bold step. They decided to decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs — from marijuana to heroin — but continue to impose criminal sanctions on distribution and trafficking. The goal: easing the burden on the nation’s criminal justice system and improving the people’s overall health by treating addiction as an illness, not a crime.
A wider trend for drug law reform is arising out of a felt need to make legislation more effective and more humane. Within this trend, a number of countries have considered decriminalisation or depenalisation models and many have, at least initially, considered threshold quantities as a good way to distinguish between what is possession and what is supply or trafficking and as a means to ensure that the sentences imposed are proportionate to the harmfulness of the offence.
What are the benefits and risks of eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession for personal use?
What are the risks and benefits of distinguishing international narco-trafficking from small-scale dealing?
The war on drugs has failed. What are the alternatives?
These and other questions will be discussed by the new Global Commission on Drug Policy, to be launched on the 24th and 25th of January, 2011, in Geneva. The Commission will include eminent personalities such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Solana, Ernesto Zedillo, Ruth Dreifuss, Michel Kazatchkine, Cesar Gaviria, Carlos Fuentes and Thorvald Stoltenberg, among others. The Global Commission will be chaired by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, (former president of Brazil).
A group set up by former Latin American leaders and personalities including Virgin chief Richard Branson on Monday recommended that consumers of illicit drugs should not be treated as criminals. The Global Commission on Drug Policies felt that the prevalent repressive approach to drug abuse was failing, members said after their two-day inaugural meeting.
Three former Latin American presidents have declared the US-led “war on drugs” a failure and called for new strategies focusing on treatment to replace a repressive approach they say is discredited. The former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil made their call at the launch of the Global Commission on Drugs Policies in Geneva this week. The three statesmen hope the new body will develop proposals that will move the global drugs debate away from prohibition and towards treating the issue as a public health problem.
In an online town hall session yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested that, while he is not in favor of drug legalization, he does believe drugs ought to be treated as “more of a public health problem.” Obama went on to add: “On drugs, I think a lot of times we’ve been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand.” (See the video clip below for the president’s full remarks.)
A Washington State Democrat has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana and sell it in liquor stores. Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson filed House Bill 1550 on Tuesday, which proposes pot be sold to adults aged 21 and up. The bill argues regulation and taxation of weed would "generate revenue for health care programs" and "create jobs in the agricultural sector." It suggests the state's Liquor Control Board could issue licenses for marijuana growing.
The drug trade has increased globally in intensity and reach, and substance abuse in South Africa has escalated rapidly. Drug misuse is a major social, legal and public health challenge despite the war on drugs, in which the USA has a disproportionate influence. Why this lack of progress and what can be done about it?
The West Coast is a different world when it comes to progress on drug policy reform. Three of the four states most likely to see strong pushes for marijuana legalization in the next couple of years are on the West Coast (the other being Colorado). And medical marijuana is a fact of life from San Diego to Seattle. But it's not just pot politics that makes the West Coast different. The region has also been a pioneer in sentencing reform and harm reduction practices, even if countervailing forces remain strong and both policy areas remain contested terrain.
Today the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report. I’ve been following the Board for many, many years now, have often criticized its narrow interpretation of the treaties, have questioned the validity of its usually negative comments about any policy changes in the direction of harm reduction or decriminalization, and have warned repeatedly about its tendency to overstep its clearly defined mandate.
The municipality of the Dutch city of Utrecht recently announced two scientific experiments on cannabis policy. One experiment will be to set up a closed club model for adult recreational cannabis users. Cannabis smokers will grow their own marijuana in a cooperative, a move which would go against the government's drive to discourage coffee shops. The other experiment concerns treatment for people who are vulnerable to psychotic disorders.
The marijuana-legalization debate can too quickly become polarized. Guest columnist Roger Roffman argues that both sides need to tone down the rhetoric at look at ways youth can be protected if adult marijuana use becomes legal in Washington state. A full discussion requires not only that the proponents of change acknowledge the risks of trying a new approach, but also that those opposing change acknowledge the harms of current policies and the potential of alternative strategies. They may find it's possible to implement a policy that accomplishes both protecting youth and ending the criminalization of responsible adult marijuana use.
Top government officials will review recommendations to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal and religious use in Jamaica. Six Cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Bruce Golding's administration will evaluate a 2001 report by the National Commission for Ganja -- as marijuana is known locally. The commission, which included academics and doctors and was appointed by a government led by the current opposition, argued that the drug was "culturally entrenched" in Jamaica and that moderate use had no negative health effects on most users.
In the year 2000, Poland amended its criminal legislation on drug possession. As a result, any person possessing even the smallest amount of an illegal substance was liable to be prosecuted. Since the amendment in 2000, the number of drug-related offences has been increasing steadily.
In a widely watched You Tube video, U.S. President Barack Obama is asked whether or not the drug war may in fact be counterproductive. Instead of the resounding NO that would have come from any of his recent predecessors, Obama responded: “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” He then qualified his remarks by adding, “I am not in favor of legalization.” Nonetheless, even acknowledging the legitimacy of debate on U.S. drug policy is a significant shift from the past, when successive administrations stifled discussion and routinely labeled anyone promoting alternative approaches to the socalled U.S. “war on drugs” as dangerous and surreptitiously promoting massive drug use and poisoning America’s youth.
Several states have started reassessing their medical marijuana laws after stern warnings from the federal government that everyone from licensed growers to regulators could be subjected to prosecution.The ominous-sounding letters from U.S. attorneys in recent weeks have directly injected the federal government back into a debate that has for years been progressing at the state level.
New Zealand’s 35-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act should be consigned to the rubbish heap of history and replaced with a modern, flexible, health-focussed law fit for purpose for the 21st Century, said the New Zealand Drug Foundation today. The Drug Foundation was responding to the Law Commission’s recommendations for reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, which was tabled today in Parliament. The report makes 144 recommendations for a new legislative and policy approach to reducing the country’s drug problem, and is a result of a comprehensive 2 year review of New Zealand’s obsolete drug law.
The New Zealand Law Commission was asked to address the efficacy of the Misuse of Drugs Act in reducing the demand for, and supply of, drugs prohibited under the International Drug Conventions. The Commission has recommended the existing Act be repealed and replaced by a new Act administered by the Ministry of Health. Justice Hammond said the thrust of the proposed new Act is to facilitate a more effective interface between the criminal justice and health sectors: “We need to recognise that the abuse of drugs is both a health and a criminal public policy problem.”
Gov. Jack Markell has signed legislation making Delaware the 16th state to allow the use of medical marijuana. The new law allows people 18 and older with certain serious or debilitating conditions that could be alleviated by marijuana to possess up to six ounces of the drug. Qualifying patients would be referred to state-licensed and regulated “compassion centers,” which would be located in each of Delaware’s three counties. The centers would grow, cultivate and dispense the marijuana.