For forty years the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has formed the corner stone of drug policy in Britain. The emergence of new psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’) during the past fifteen years or so has challenged the drug control system. The arrival in 2012 of a new psychoactive substance on the market, on average, every six days raises questions about how best to protect young people from unknown and unsafe drugs. The Government is considering this challenge and we hope this Inquiry report will make a helpful contribution to their deliberations.
Three United Nations Conventions provide the international legal framework on drug control, instructing countries to limit drug supply and use to medical and scientific purposes. Yet, debate continues on the decriminalisation, or even legalisation, of drugs, particularly cannabis. Models under development for the legal supply of cannabis are described in this analysis, as well as some of the questions they raise.
Part of the ‘Perspectives on drugs’ (PODs) series, launched alongside the annual European Drug Report, these designed-for-the-web interactive analyses aim to provide deeper insights into a selection of important issues.
Latin America is now at the vanguard of international efforts to promote drug policy reform: Bolivia has rewritten its constitution to recognize the right to use the coca leaf for traditional and legal purposes, Uruguay has become the first nation in the world to adopt a legal, regulated Cannabis market, and Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador are openly critiquing the prevailing international drug control paradigm at the UN. And now with the United States itself relaxing its marijuana laws state by state, the U.S. prohibitionist drug war strategies are losing credibility in the region.
Cannabis was condemned by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a psychoactive drug with “particularly dangerous properties” and hardly any therapeutic value. Ever since, an increasing number of countries have shown discomfort with the treaty regime’s strictures through soft defections, stretching its legal flexibility to sometimes questionable limits.
Registered voters in California will be the ones voting next Tuesday on whether to legalize marijuana under state law. But the ballot initiative in question – Proposition 19 – has sparked debate far beyond the state’s borders. The fate of Prop 19 is being watched especially closely in Latin America, and for good reason. Proximity to the United States – still the world’s major market for illicit drugs – has helped to stimulate robust illicit drug production and distribution networks in the region. And U.S.-backed militarized enforcement to suppress the drug industry, combined with harsh laws to punish drug users, have made the “war on drugs” more than metaphorical in many Latin American countries.
Despite efforts by governments in Latin America, illicit drugs continue to provide one of the largest incomes for criminal organizations, enabling them to penetrate and corrupt political and social institutions.
Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.
Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond, Peter H. Reuter
13 October 2010
The United States’ demand for illicit drugs creates markets for Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and helps foster violence in Mexico. Some government and media sources have reported that Mexican and Colombian DTOs combined earn $18–$39 billion annually in wholesale drug proceeds and 60 percent of all Mexican DTO drug export revenue comes from marijuana. These numbers have been cited to argue that legalizing marijuana in California would reduce Mexican DTOs’ revenues, thereby reducing violence.
This is a guide to regulating legal markets for the non-medical use of cannabis. It is for policy makers, drug policy reform advocates and affected communities all over the world, who are witnessing the question change from, 'Should we maintain cannabis prohibition?' to 'How will legal regulation work in practice?
Under the 1976 Law on opium (Opiumwet 1976), the possession, dealing, cultivation, transportation, production, import and export of narcotic drugs, including cannabis and its derivatives, are prohibited in the Netherlands. That Member State applies a policy of tolerance with regard to cannabis. That policy is reflected inter alia in the establishment of coffee-shops, the main activities of which are the sale and consumption of that ‘soft’ drug. The local authorities may authorise such establishments in compliance with certain criteria. In a number of coffee-shops, non-alcoholic beverages and food are also sold.
Beau Kilmer, Kristy Kruithof, Mafalda Pardal, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Jennifer Rubin
14 December 2013
This RAND report provides an overview of the changes to laws and policies pertaining to cannabis in different countries. Several jurisdictions have reduced the penalties for possessing cannabis for personal use (and in some places even for home cultivation), while some jurisdictions have taken more dramatic steps and changed their laws and practices with respect to producing and distributing cannabis.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) organized an expert seminar on Costs and Benefits of Cannabis Regulation Models in Europe in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on October 31/November 1, 2013. The objective of the seminar was to identify and map existing and possible future cannabis regulation models in Europe, looking at the local, provincial and national levels and the potential impact of such models on the illicit cannabis market.
Uruguay's approval of regulation under state control marks a tipping point in the failed war against drugs as it makes Uruguay the first country in the world to fully regulate the cultivation, trade and consumption of cannabis for medical, industrial as well as recreational purposes. This infographic gives a quick summary of the reasons why Uruguay is regulating cannabis.
In 1976 the Netherlands adopted a formal written policy of non-enforcement for violations involving possession or sale of up to 30 g of cannabis. The ‘gateway theory’ has long been seen as an argument for being tough on cannabis, but interestingly, the Dutch saw that concept as a rationale for allowing retail outlets to sell small quantities. Rather than seeing an inexorable psychopharmacological link between marijuana and hard drugs, the Dutch hypothesized that the gateway mechanism reflected social and economic networks, so that separating the markets would keep cannabis users out of contact with hard-drug users and sellers.
On December 10, 2013, the General Assembly of Uruguay approved a law that made the country the first one in the world to fully regulate the cultivation, trade and consumption of cannabis for medical, industrial as well as recreational purposes. This infographic gives a short overview of the main aspects of the new law.
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.
Understanding the consequences of drug legalisation versus prohibition is important for policy. Most recently this subject has gained much political attention not only globally, but specifically in the Netherlands. This study will provide a contribution to the legalisation debate based on a microeconomic analysis of the effects of illegal markets. The research question is how to design a coherent soft drugs policy framework that maximizes social welfare within the Netherlands that precludes most historical, sociological and political debates. In particular, attention is restricted to ‘soft drugs’ better known as cannabis derived products like hashish and marijuana.
Ernestien Jensema, Martin Jelsma, Tom Kramer, Nang Pann Ei Kham, Gloria Lai, Tripti Tandon
16 February 2015
The decision of the Myanmar Government to review drug laws is not only timely, but also offers a prospect to improve the drugs legislation and to ensure that the laws address drug-related problems in the country more effectively.