U.S. drug control officials have denounced Dutch drug policy as if it were the devil himself. One former U.S. Drug Czar said "you can't walk down the street in Amsterdam without tripping over junkies." In the Summer of 1998, however, one such denouncement turned into a small scandal. The first part of this chapter examines this incident as a window on the politics of drug policy. The second part offers a more general analysis of why U.S. drug control officials seem to be so threatened by the Dutch example.
Cannabis is the cutting-edge drug for reform, the only politically plausible candidate for major legal change, at least decriminalisation (removal of criminal penalties for possession) and perhaps even outright legalisation (permitting production and sale). Compared with other drugs, the harms, physiological or behavioural, are less severe and the drug is better integrated into the culture. Throughout Western Europe and in the Antipodes there is pressure for reductions in the punitiveness of the marijuana regime.
Following decades of rising cannabis use and talk of liberalisation, Switzerland had appeared poised to become the marijuana capital of Europe. The country still boasts some of the highest rates of cannabis use in Europe, but Switzerland's pot movement has taken a hit in the past few years: proposed liberalisation did not come to pass and enforcement has been on the rise.
Robin Room, Peter Reuter (RAND), Wayne Hall, Benedikt Fischer, Simon Lenton, Amanda Fielding
01 September 2008
Despite cannabis being the most widely used illegal drug, and therefore the mainstay of the ‘war on drugs’, it has only ever held a relatively marginal position in international drug policy discussions. Amanda Fielding of the Beckley Foundation decided to convene a team of the world’s leading drug policy analysts to prepare an overview of the latest scientific evidence surrounding cannabis and the policies that control its use. The report of the Beckley Foundation's Global Cannabis Commission is aimed at bringing cannabis to the attention of policymakers and guide decision making.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories
06 August 2010
The current international system of drug control has focused on creating a drug-free world, almost exclusively through use of law enforcement policies and criminal sanctions. Mounting evidence, however, suggests this approach has failed, primarily because it does not acknowledge the realities of drug use and dependence. While drugs may have a pernicious effect on individual lives and society, this excessively punitive regime has not achieved its stated public health goals, and has resulted in countless human rights violations.
Maria Lucia Karam, a retired Brazilian judge, argues that drugs should be legalised - but regulated. Every country that has provided a glimpse of what a regulated future might look like has experienced lowered rates of death, disease, crime and addiction.
Former President Vicente Fox is joining with those urging his successor to legalize drugs in Mexico, saying that could break the economic power of the country's brutal drug cartels. Fox's comments, posted Sunday on his blog, came less than a week after President Felipe Calderon agreed to open the door to discussions about the legalization of drugs, even though he stressed that he remained opposed to the idea.
In August 2010, Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared that he would support a national debate on the issue of legalisation, reversing his previous stance on the subject. However, he underscored that he did not favour legalisation, particularly since the US and the international community maintained their prohibitionist approach. This IDPC Briefing Paper offers background information on the cannabis political debate in Mexico.
A debate about legalizing marijuana and possibly other drugs — once a taboo suggestion — is percolating in Mexico, a nation exhausted by runaway violence and a deadly drug war. The debate is only likely to grow more animated if Californians approve an initiative on Nov. 2 to legalize marijuana for recreational use in their state.
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.
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 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.”
The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.
The former head of MI5 believes the "war on drugs" has proved fruitless and it is time to consider decriminalising the possession and use of small quantities of cannabis. Eliza Manningham-Buller has backed calls for the government to set up a commission to examine how to tackle the UK's drug culture and consider the highly controversial move of relaxing the law. She was speaking at a meeting held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform.
A committee has now been established to determine the best way to legalise the sale of hashish, with special stores owned by the council presenting itself as the preferred candidate. The sale, consumption and cultivation of marijuana is illegal in Denmark, all of which can be punished with warnings, fines or jail time. Despite this there is a strong black market for the drug generating 1.5 billion kroner a year and controlled entirely by criminal gangs.
The Copenhagen City Council is pushing ahead with a proposal to decriminalise cannabis, and has set up a committee to investigate the best way to regulate the supply and distribution. The favoured option is for 30 or 40 cannabis shops controlled by the city in which adults may legally buy cannabis. By a margin of 39 votes to nine, the City Council decided to draw up a detailed outline of how the plan would work. Subsequently, the resulting proposal still has to be ratified by the Danish parliament, which has blocked similar movements in the past. But after the national elections in September 2011 the current parliament could support decriminalisation this time around.
Should pot be outlawed, controlled, or just legalised? For anti-addiction experts, regulating consumption would counter a drug market associated with violent crime and lead to better public health and safety. But not everyone agrees. This year, Parliament agreed on the principle that adult cannabis users should be fined and not subjected to criminal charges. (See also: Growing cannabis at home)
A report by a group of prominent Australians that recommends Australia rethink its criminalisation of illicit drugs has been backed by the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association. The report recommended that cannabis and ecstasy be decriminalised for people aged 16 and older, who are willing to be recorded on a national confidential user's register. Users would be able to purchase drugs from an approved supplier, likely a chemist.
Last week, delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted in support of the decriminalization and taxation of marijuana. This vote was in accordance with the principles of the Sensible Policing Act put forward by the Sensible B.C. Campaign, which aims to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, regulate its use (i.e., prohibit minors from using it, just as we do with tobacco and alcohol) and call on the federal government to allow B.C. to investigate how to best tax it for revenue.
The three UN Drug Conventions of 1961, 1971 and 1988 currently impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ prohibitionist approach to drug policy throughout the world. This new report explains in detail how the Conventions could be amended in order to give countries greater freedom to adopt drug policies better suited to their special needs.