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In the face of a sprawling drug market, criminal prosecution is reaching its limits. As a result, numerous countries are now breaking new ground to undermine the drug trade. A brief overview of the alternatives in dealing with hard or soft drugs - legalization, therapeutic use, decriminalization or tolerance.
According to a recent report by the European Drugs Monitoring Center and Europol, the European drug market is changing at breathtaking speed. As a result of globalization, new drug rings are emerging, thanks to modern technology more and stronger intoxicants can be produced and the Internet offers a cheap and extremely low-risk distribution channel. The “legal high” phenomenon is the best example of this. The chemical composition of these modern drugs is constantly being adjusted to avoid new laws and to remain legal. In 2015 a total of 100 new “legal” substances were brought onto the market.
Why do some countries legalize drugs?
In the EU alone, drugs generate EUR 24 billion a year. This money goes to organized crime, corruption, human trafficking and terrorism. Legalizing drugs can divert part of this flow of money into the pockets of the state, thereby depriving the drug mafias and cartels of a good part of their financial basis. At the same time, the consumer is also better protected.
Did you know that 1% of European adults use cannabis on a daily basis?
William Lowenstein on a common drug policy in the EU:
Portugal: decriminalization of all drugs
No country in the world has legalized all drugs so far. In Portugal, however, the purchase, possession and private consumption of both soft and hard drugs have no longer been a criminal offense since 2000. The consumption can now only be fined, while the sale remains a criminal offense. Consumers can avoid paying the fine by agreeing to participate in a withdrawal program. 16 years after this change in political direction, the drug use of Portuguese young people aged 15 to 24 is surprisingly one of the lowest in Europe. The number of HIV infections from contaminated syringes has since declined, as has the number of drug deaths and people serving prison sentences for drug offenses. At the same time, it was found that services such as drug treatment and stays in rehab centers are being used more.
Netherlands: soft drug tolerance
The use, possession and production of hard and soft drugs are in principle illegal in the Netherlands. Since 1976, however, the country has had a fairly tolerant policy aimed at promoting public health. For example, courts no longer apply the law to the use, possession or sale of soft drugs. In practice, hard drug sanctions have also decreased. A maximum of 5 grams of soft drugs can be purchased in around 600 coffee shops in the country. In order to curb drug tourism, some coffee shops can now require the presentation of a “cannabis card”, which is only issued to Dutch people. Incidentally, three times fewer people are arrested for drug offenses in the Netherlands than in France.
USA: Legalization of cannabis in some states
While drugs are federally banned in the United States, individual states can legalize cannabis. This makes the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, and use of cannabis legal in Alaska, Colorado, and Washington State. Ownership and private cultivation have been legalized in Oregon and Washington DC, but purchase is only permitted for therapeutic use. In addition, cannabis has been legalized in a good dozen other US states.
Possession and use of cannabis are also permitted in Uruguay and Bangladesh.
Spain: Allowed in private
In Spain, possession and use of soft drugs has been allowed in private, while public use can still be fined. Since 2000, non-profit associations have set up around 300 so-called cannabis social clubs, in which cannabis can be purchased and consumed privately.
And in France?
France is lagging a little behind. Apart from the drug Sativex, which is derived from the cannabis plant, all drug use is illegal there. The use of cannabis is punishable in principle with one year in prison and a fine of € 3,750 - if it is classified as personal use. In practice, however, possession of cannabis is not prosecuted in 95% of cases.
William Lowenstein on the legalization process in France:
On April 3, three people fell victim to a drug reckoning in Marseille, bringing the number of such murders in the greater Marseille area to ten since the beginning of the year. The drama fuels the legalization discussions.
And in the rest of Europe?
In many other European countries, possession of small amounts of cannabis is either tolerated or only punished with a fine. In the case of larger quantities and, in some countries, repeated violations, drug users face imprisonment. However, manufacturing and trading continue to be prosecuted.
In Europe, drug possession is fined in the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Malta, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Italy and Switzerland. In Switzerland, however, three popular initiatives to legalize one or more drugs have failed over the years.
In some German federal states, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark and Poland, possession of small quantities is largely tolerated in practice and has no criminal consequences.
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