The Swiss look set to approve the government's drugs policy, including the prescription of heroin to addicts, but will reject a plan to decriminalise cannabis. More than two-thirds of voters approved a plan to enshrine the government's four-pillar drugs policy in law. The official drugs strategy is based on prevention, harm reduction, therapy and repression. It was devised in response to the open drugs scene in Zurich and other Swiss cities during the 1990s.
Portugal's move to decriminalize illicit substances—Europe's most liberal drug legislation—turns 10 years old this month amid new scrutiny and plaudits. Portugal's decriminalization regime has caught the eye of regulators in Europe and beyond since it was implemented in 2001. Proponents credit the program for stanching one of Europe's worst drug epidemics. Approaching a decade in force, it is providing a real-world model of one way to address an issue that is a social and economic drag on countries world-wide.
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.
In the year 2000, as the president of Poland, I signed one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession. Any amount of illicit substances a person possessed meant they were eligible for up to three years in prison. Our hope was that this would help to liberate Poland, and especially its youths, from drugs that not only have a potential to ruin the lives of the people who abuse them but also have been propelling the spread of HIV among people who inject them. We were mistaken on both of our assumptions.
Portugal’s anti-drug policies have been gaining international visibility since this country's 2001 decision to eliminate all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug consumption, still opposed by political sectors like the right, was made possible by “favourable public opinion…it arose from society,” where virtually every family had a member or friend with a drug abuse problem, says João Goulão president of this country’s Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Portugal's famously liberal drug policy has been held up as a model for other countries - Norway is considering adopting parts of it and countries as far afield as Argentina have expressed interest. But experts warn that budget cuts and the threat of more cuts to come - combined with an increase in hard drug abuse - risk turning it into a shadow of its former self. "We have a certain responsibility to maintain the essential despite the recession," said Joao Goulao, the national drugs agency chief. "Other countries do look at us and seek our expertise."
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.
The Home Affairs Select Committee in the United Kingdom report on drug policy draws on lessons from Portugal’s decriminalisation of drug possession and puts forward a case for the UK reconsidering its own policies. Alex Stevens assesses the situation in Portugal, noting that while decriminalisation has coincided with a fall in the most problematic forms of drug use, it is not the only factor. (See also: Portugal: Ten Years After Decriminalization)
The personal use of illegal drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine, should be decriminalized as part of a federal-provincial strategy to tackle drug abuse, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition argues. Their report, Getting To Tomorrow, denounces the Harper government’s aggressive war on drugs, which puts the emphasis on law enforcement while steering money away from harm-reduction initiatives like Vancouver’s supervised injection site. (See also: Call to legalize 'hard' drugs meets opposition)
Canada's war on drugs has caused serious harm, particularly for the nation's most vulnerable, according to a Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) policy paper. The report, A New Approach to Managing Psychoactive Substances, calls for the decriminalization of drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine, as well as strategies to reduce harm and address the social conditions underlying problem substance use.
Luxembourg's Parliament is to debate the decriminalisation of consumption of cannabis, the health minister said while outlining a new drug prevention programme. The minister said she hoped to raise awareness among young people of the risks surrounding cannabis consumption as well as the use of other, legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco.