Prohibition of drugs
While some drugs are illegal to possess, many governments regulate the manufacture, distribution, marketing, sale and use of certain drugs, for instance through a prescription system. Only certain drugs are banned with a "blanket prohibition" against all possession or use. The most widely banned substances include psychoactive drugs, although blanket prohibition also extends to some steroids and other drugs. Many governments do not criminalize the possession of a limited quantity of certain drugs for personal use, while still prohibiting their sale or manufacture, or possession in large quantities. Some laws set a specific volume of a particular drug, above which is considered ipso jure to be evidence of trafficking or sale of the drug. Drug prohibition is responsible for enriching "organised criminal networks", according to some critics while the hypothesis that the prohibition of drugs generates violence is consistent with research done over long time-series and cross-country facts.
Some Islamic countries prohibit the use of alcohol (see list of countries with alcohol prohibition). Many governments levy a sin tax on alcohol and tobacco products, and restrict alcohol and tobacco from sales or gifts to minors. Other common restrictions include bans on outdoor drinking and indoor smoking. In the early 20th Century, many countries had alcohol prohibition. These include The United States (1920–1933), Finland (1919–1932), Norway (1916–1927), Canada (1901–1948), Iceland (1915–1922) and the Russian Empire/USSR (1914–1925).
The cultivation, use, and trade of psychoactive and other drugs has occurred since ancient times. Concurrently, authorities have often restricted drugs' possession and trade for a variety of political and religious reasons. In the 20th century, the United States led a major renewed surge in drug prohibition called the "War on Drugs". Today's War on Drugs is particularly motivated by the desire to prevent drug use, which is perceived as detrimental to society.
Early drug laws
The prohibition on alcohol under Islamic Sharia law, which is usually attributed to passages in the Qur'an, dates back to the 7th century. Although Islamic law is often interpreted as prohibiting all intoxicants (not only alcohol), the ancient practice of hashish smoking has continued throughout the history of Islam, against varying degrees of resistance. A major campaign against hashish-eating Sufis was conducted in Egypt in the 11th and 12th centuries resulting among other things in the burning of fields of cannabis.
Though the prohibition of illegal drugs was established under Sharia law, particularly against the use of hashish as a recreational drug, classical jurists of medieval Islamic jurisprudence accepted the use of hashish for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, and agreed that its "medical use, even if it leads to mental derangement, should remain exempt [from punishment]". In the 14th century, the Islamic scholar Az-Zarkashi spoke of "the permissibility of its use for medical purposes if it is established that it is beneficial."
In the Ottoman Empire, Murad IV attempted to prohibit coffee drinking to Muslims as haraam, arguing that it was an intoxicant, but this ruling was overturned soon after his death in 1640. The introduction of coffee in Europe from Muslim Turkey prompted calls for it to be banned as the devil's work, although Pope Clement VIII sanctioned its use in 1600, declaring that it was "so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it." The early association between coffeehouses and seditious political activities in England, led to the banning of such establishments in the mid-17th century.
A number of Asian rulers had similarly enacted early prohibitions, many of which were later forcefully overturned by Western colonial powers during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1360, for example, King Ramathibodi I, of Ayutthaya Kingdom ( now Thailand ), prohibited opium consumption and trade. The prohibition lasted nearly 500 years until 1851, when King Rama IV allowed Chinese migrants to consume opium. While the Konbaung Dynasty prohibited all intoxicants and stimulants during the reign of King Bodawpaya (1781–1819). As the British colonized parts of Burma from 1852 they overturned local prohibitions and established opium monopolies selling Indian produced opium.
In late Qing Imperial China, opium imported by the British East India Company was consumed by all social classes in Southern China. Between 1821 and 1837, imports of the drug increased fivefold. The drain of silver to India and widespread social problems that resulted from this consumption prompted the Chinese government to attempt to end the trade. This effort was initially successful, with the destruction of all British opium stock in May 1839. However, to protect their commerce, the British declared war on China in the First Opium War. China was defeated and the war ended with the Treaty of Nanking, which protected foreign opium traders from Chinese law.
First modern drug regulations
The first modern law in Europe for the regulating of drugs was the Pharmacy Act 1868 in the United Kingdom. There had been previous moves to establish the medical and pharmaceutical professions as separate, self-regulating bodies, but the General Medical Council, established in 1863, unsuccessfully attempted to assert control over drug distribution. The Act set controls on the distribution of poisons and drugs. Poisons could only be sold if the purchaser was known to the seller or to an intermediary known to both, and drugs, including opium and all preparations of opium or of poppies, had to be sold in containers with the seller's name and address. Despite the reservation of opium to professional control, general sales did continue to a limited extent, with mixtures with less than 1 per cent opium being unregulated.
After the legislation passed, the death rate caused by opium immediately fell from 6.4 per million population in 1868 to 4.5 in 1869. Deaths among children under five dropped from 20.5 per million population between 1863 and 1867, to 12.7 per million in 1871, and further declined to between 6 and 7 per million in the 1880s.
In the United States, the first drug law was passed in San Francisco in 1875, banning the smoking of opium in opium dens. The reason cited was "many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise." This was followed by other laws throughout the country, and federal laws which barred Chinese people from trafficking in opium. Though the laws affected the use and distribution of opium by Chinese immigrants, no action was taken against the producers of such products as laudanum, a tincture of opium and alcohol, commonly taken as a panacea by white Americans. The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often (but not exclusively) used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion.
Britain also passed the All-India Opium Act of 1878, which similarly formalized social distinctions, by limiting recreational opium sales to registered Indian opium-eaters and Chinese opium-smokers and prohibiting its sale to workers from Burma.
Following passage of a regional law in 1895, Australia's Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 addressed opium addiction among Aborigines, though it soon became a general vehicle for depriving them of basic rights by administrative regulation. Opium sale was prohibited to the general population in 1905, and smoking and possession was prohibited in 1908.
Despite these laws, the late 19th century saw an increase in opiate consumption. This was due to the prescribing and dispensing of legal opiates by physicians and pharmacists to relieve painful menstruation. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 opiate addicts lived in the United States at the time, and a majority of these addicts were women.
Changing attitudes and the drug prohibition campaign
Since Britain's victory over the Qing Empire in the First Opium War, British traders had sold large amounts of opium to the Chinese to balance their trade. Attitudes towards the morality of this business were slow to change, but in 1874 the Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade was formed in England by Quakers led by the Rev. Frederick Storrs-Turner. By the 1890s, increasingly strident campaigns were waged by Protestant missionaries in China for its abolition. The first such society was established at the 1890 Shanghai Missionary Conference, where British and American representatives, including John Glasgow Kerr, Arthur E. Moule, Arthur Gostick Shorrock and Griffith John, agreed to establish the Permanent Committee for the Promotion of Anti-Opium Societies.
Due to increasing pressure in the British parliament, the Liberal government under William Ewart Gladstone approved the appointment of a Royal Commission on Opium to India in 1893. The commission was tasked with ascertaining the impact of India's opium exports to the Far East, and to advise whether the trade should be ended and opium consumption itself banned in India or not. After an extended inquiry the Royal Commission rejected the claims made by the anti-opiumists in regard to the harm wrought to India by this traffic and the issue was buried for another 15 years.
The missionary organizations were outraged over the Royal Commission on Opium's conclusions and set up the Anti-Opium League in China; the league gathered data from every Western-trained medical doctor in China and published Opinions of Over 100 Physicians on the Use of Opium in China. This was the first anti-drug campaign to be based on scientific principles, and it had a tremendous impact on the state of educated opinion in the West. In England, the home director of the China Inland Mission, Benjamin Broomhall, was an active opponent of the opium trade, writing two books to promote the banning of opium smoking: The Truth about Opium Smoking and The Chinese Opium Smoker. In 1888, Broomhall formed and became secretary of the Christian Union for the Severance of the British Empire with the Opium Traffic and editor of its periodical, National Righteousness. He lobbied the British Parliament to stop the opium trade. He and James Laidlaw Maxwell appealed to the London Missionary Conference of 1888 and the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 to condemn the continuation of the trade. As Broomhall lay dying, an article from The Times was read to him with the welcome news that an international agreement had been signed ensuring the end of the opium trade within two years.
In 1906, a motion to 'declare the opium trade "morally indefensible" and remove Government support for it', initially unsuccessfully proposed by Arthur Pease in 1891, was put before the House of Commons. This time the motion passed. The Chinese government banned opium soon afterwards.
These changing attitudes led to the founding of the International Opium Commission in 1909. An International Opium Convention was signed by 13 nations at The Hague on January 23, 1912 during the First International Opium Conference. This was the first international drug control treaty and it was registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on January 23, 1922. The Convention provided that "The contracting Powers shall use their best endeavours to control, or to cause to be controlled, all persons manufacturing, importing, selling, distributing, and exporting morphine, cocaine, and their respective salts, as well as the buildings in which these persons carry such an industry or trade."
The treaty became international law in 1919 when it was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. The role of the Commission was passed to the League of Nations, and all signatory nations agreed to prohibit the import, sale, distribution, export, and use of all narcotic drugs, except for medical and scientific purposes.
In the UK the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, passed at the onset of the First World War, gave the government wide-ranging powers to requisition property and to criminalise specific activities. A moral panic was whipped up by the press in 1916 over the alleged sale of drugs to the troops of the British Indian Army. With the temporary powers of DORA, the Army Council quickly banned the sale of all psychoactive drugs to troops, unless required for medical reasons. However, shifts in the public attitude towards drugs—they were beginning to be associated with prostitution, vice and immorality—led the government to pass further unprecedented laws, banning and criminalising the possession and dispensation of all narcotics, including opium and cocaine. After the war, this legislation was maintained and strengthened with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920. Home Office control was extended to include raw opium, morphine, cocaine, ecogonine and heroin.
Hardening of Canadian attitudes toward Chinese opium users and fear of a spread of the drug into the white population led to the effective criminalization of opium for nonmedical use in Canada between 1908 and the mid-1920s.
In the USA, the Harrison Act was passed in 1914, and required sellers of opiates and cocaine to get a license. While originally intended to regulate the trade, it soon became a prohibitive law. It soon became legal precedent that any prescription for a narcotic given by a physician or pharmacist – even in the course of medical treatment for addiction – constituted conspiracy to violate the Harrison Act. In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled in Doremus that the Harrison Act was constitutional and in Webb that physicians could not prescribe narcotics solely for maintenance. In Jin Fuey Moy v. United States, the court upheld that it was a violation of the Harrison Act even if a physician provided prescription of a narcotic for an addict, and thus subject to criminal prosecution. This is also true of the later Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Soon, however, licensing bodies did not issue licenses, effectively banning the drugs.
The American judicial system did not initially accept drug prohibition. Prosecutors argued that possessing drugs was a tax violation, as no legal licenses to sell drugs were in existence; hence, a person possessing drugs must have purchased them from an unlicensed source. After some wrangling, this was accepted as federal jurisdiction under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The prohibition of alcohol commenced in Finland in 1919 and in the United States in 1920. Because alcohol was the most popular recreational drug in these countries, reactions to its prohibition were far more negative than to the prohibition of other drugs, which were commonly associated with ethnic minorities, prostitution, and vice. Public pressure led to the repeal of alcohol prohibition in Finland in 1932, and in the United States in 1933. Residents of many provinces of Canada also experienced alcohol prohibition for similar periods in the first half of the 20th century.
In Sweden, a referendum in 1922 decided against an alcohol prohibition law (with 51% of the votes against and 49% for prohibition), but starting in 1914 (nationwide from 1917) and until 1955 Sweden employed an alcohol rationing system with personal liquor ration books ("motbok").
War on Drugs
In response to rising drug use among young people and the counterculture movement, government efforts to enforce prohibition were strengthened in many countries from the 1960s onward. Support at an international level for the prohibition of psychoactive drug use became a consistent feature of United States policy during both Republican and Democratic administrations, to such an extent that US support for foreign governments has often been contingent on their adherence to US drug policy. Major milestones in this campaign include the introduction of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1988. A few developing countries where consumption of the prohibited substances has enjoyed longstanding cultural support, long resisted such outside pressure to pass legislation adhering to these conventions. Nepal only did so in 1976.
In 1973, New York introduced mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment for possession of more than four ounces (113g) of a so-called hard drug, called the Rockefeller drug laws after New York Governor and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Similar laws were introduced across the United States.
California's broader 'three strikes and you're out' policy adopted in 1994 was the first mandatory sentencing policy to gain widespread publicity and was subsequently adopted in most United States jurisdictions. This policy mandates life imprisonment for a third criminal conviction of any felony offense.
A similar 'three strikes' policy was introduced to the United Kingdom by the Conservative government in 1997. This legislation enacted a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for those convicted for a third time of a drug trafficking offense involving a class A drug.
Calls for legalization, relegalization or decriminalization
The terms relegalization, legalization, and decriminalization are used with very different meanings by different authors, something that can be confusing when the claims are not specified. Here are some variants:
- Sales of one or more drugs for personal use become legal, at least if sold in a certain way.
- Sales of an extracts with a specific substance become legal sold in a certain way, for example on prescription.
- Use or possession of small amounts for personal use do not lead to incarceration if it is the only crime, but it is still illegal; the court or the prosecutor can impose a fine. (In that sense, Sweden both legalized and supported drug prohibition simultaneously.)
- Use or possession of small amounts for personal use do not lead to incarceration. The case is not treated in an ordinary court, but by a commission that may recommend treatment or sanctions including fines. (In that sense, Portugal both legalized and supported drug prohibitions).
In recent years, movements have grown around the world proposing the relegalization and decriminalization of drugs. For instance, there is a movement for cannabis legalization in Canada, as well as the Marijuana Party of Canada. Drug liberalization policies are often supported by proponents of liberalism and libertarianism on the grounds of individual freedom.
There are also growing countermovements. Prohibition of drugs is supported by proponents of conservative values but also by many other types of NGO's that are not linked to conservative political parties. A growing number of NGO organizations in many countries have joined the international network World Federation Against Drugs. WFAD members support the United Nations narcotics conventions.
In 2002, five (former) police officers created Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a NGO that has gained a lot of media attention, showing that support for a regulation of drug sales also comes from the "other side" of the drug war and that maintaining a global corruption pyramid for the tax-free Mafia monopoly isn't a good idea, compared to controlling access, age and quality.
The former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Czar John P. Walters, has described the drug problem in the United States as a "public health challenge", and he has publicly eschewed the notion of a "war on drugs." He has supported additional resources for substance abuse treatment and has touted random student drug testing as an effective prevention strategy. However, the actions of the Office of National Drug Control Policy continue to belie the rhetoric of a shift away from primarily enforcement-based responses to illegal drug use.
On February 22, 2008 the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, called on the world to legalize drugs, in order, he said, to prevent the majority of violent murders occurring in Honduras. Honduras is used by cocaine smugglers as a transiting point between Colombia and the US. Honduras, with a population of 7 million, suffers an average of 8–10 murders a day, with an estimated 70% being a result of this international drug trade. The same problem is occurring in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Mexico, according to Zelaya.
In January 2012 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made a plea to the United States and Europe to start a global debate about legalizing drugs. This call was echoed by the Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who announced his desire to legalize drugs, saying "What I have done is put the issue back on the table."
In a report dealing with HIV in June 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) of the UN called for the decriminalization of drugs particularly including injected ones. This conclusion put WHO at odds with broader long-standing UN policy favoring criminalization.
Four states of the United States (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) have as of 2014 legalized the sale of marijuana for personal recreational use, despite the fact that recreational use remains illegal under U.S. federal law. The conflict between state and federal law is as of this writing (2015) unresolved.
Drug prohibition laws
See also Drug prohibition law
The following individual drugs, listed under their respective family groups (e.g., barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates), are the most frequently sought after by drug users and as such are prohibited or otherwise heavily regulated for use in many countries:
- Among the barbiturates, pentobarbital (Nembutal), secobarbital (Seconal), and amobarbital (Amytal)
- Among the benzodiazepines, temazepam (Restoril; Normison; Euhypnos), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol; Hypnor; Flunipam), and nimetazepam (Erimin)
- Cannabis products, e.g., marijuana, hashish, and hashish oil
- Among the dissociatives, phencyclidine (PCP), and ketamine are the most sought after.
- hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline, peyote, and psilocybin
- Empathogen-entactogen drugs like MDMA ("Ecstasy")
- Among the narcotics, it is opiates such as morphine and codeine, and opioids such as diacetylmorphine (Heroin), hydrocodone (Vicodin; Hycodan), oxycodone (Percocet; Oxycontin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxymorphone (Opana).
- Sedatives such as GHB and methaqualone (Quaalude)
- Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), methamphetamine (Desoxyn), methcathinone, and methylphenidate (Ritalin).
The regulation of the above drugs varies in many countries. Alcohol possession and consumption by adults is today widely banned only in Islamic countries and certain states of India. The United States, Finland, and Canada banned alcohol in the early part of the 20th century; this was called Prohibition. Although alcohol prohibition was repealed in these countries at a national level, there are still parts of the United States that do not allow alcohol sales, even though alcohol possession may be legal. Bhutan is the only country in the world where possession and use of tobacco is illegal. New Zealand has banned the importation of chewing tobacco as part of the Smoke-free Environments Act 1990. In some parts of the world, provisions are made for the use of traditional sacraments like ayahuasca, iboga, and peyote. In Gabon, Africa, iboga (tabernanthe iboga) has been declared a national treasure and is used in rites of the Bwiti religion. The active ingredient, ibogaine, is proposed as a treatment of opioid withdrawal and various substance use disorders.
In countries where alcohol and tobacco are legal, certain measures are frequently undertaken to discourage use of these drugs. For example, packages of alcohol and tobacco sometimes communicate warnings directed towards the consumer, communicating the potential risks of partaking in the use of the substance. These drugs also frequently have special sin taxes associated with the purchase thereof, in order to recoup the losses associated with public funding for the health problems the use causes in long-term users. Restrictions on advertising also exist in many countries, and often a state holds a monopoly on manufacture, distribution, marketing, and/or the sale of these drugs.
In the United States, there is considerable legal debate about the impact these laws have had on Americans' civil rights. Critics claim that the War on Drugs has lowered the evidentiary burden required for a legal search of a suspect's dwelling or vehicle, or to intercept a suspect's communications. However, many of the searches that result in drug arrests are often "commissions" to search a person or the person's property.
People who consent to a search, knowing full well that they possess contraband, generally consent because they are ignorant of the fact that they have the right to decline permission to search. Under the laws of most U.S. states, police are not required to disclose to suspects that they have the right to decline a search. Even when a suspect does not give permission to search, police are often known to state in arrest affidavits and even provide sworn testimony that the suspect consented to the search, secure in the knowledge that a judge will normally weigh all questions of credibility in favour of law enforcement and against the accused.
Similarly, in cases where the accused does not consent to a search, courts have generally held police to a very low standard of reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause in drug cases, essentially endorsing "fishing expeditions" by stop-and-search highway interdiction police.
The sentencing statutes in the United States Code that cover controlled substances are notoriously intricate. For example, a first-time offender convicted in a single proceeding for selling marijuana three times, and found to have carried a gun on him all three times (even if it were not used) is subject to a minimum sentence of 55 years in federal prison.
Drug sentencing guidelines under state law in America are generally much less harsh than the federal sentencing guidelines, although great irregularities exist. The vast majority of drug felonies and almost all drug misdemeanors in the United States are prosecuted at the state level. The federal government tends to prosecute only drug trafficking cases involving large amounts of drugs, or cases which have been referred to federal prosecutors by local district attorneys seeking the harsher sentences provided under the federal sentencing guidelines. In rare instances, some defendants are prosecuted both federally and by the state for the same drug trafficking conduct. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a defendant does not face double jeopardy if he is convicted and sentenced by both the state and federal government for the same underlying criminal conduct.
Sometimes, crimes not directly related to drug use and sale. For example, the United States recently brought charges against club owners for maintaining a place of business where a) Ecstasy is known to be frequently consumed; b) paraphernalia associated with the use of Ecstasy is sold and/or widely tolerated (such as glow sticks and pacifiers); and c) "chill-out rooms" are created, where Ecstasy users can cool down (Ecstasy users in club settings tend to dance for extended periods of time, raising the user's blood temperature). These are being challenged in court by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Drug Policy Alliance.
Drug prohibition has created several legal dilemmas. For example, many countries allow the use of undercover law enforcement officers solely or primarily for the enforcement of laws against use of certain drugs. Many of these officers are allegedly allowed to commit crimes if it is necessary to maintain the secrecy of the investigation, or in order to collect adequate evidence for a conviction. Some people have criticized this practice as failing to ensure equality under the law because it grants police officers the right to commit crimes that no other citizen could commit without potential consequences.
Another legal dilemma is the creation in several countries of a legal loopholes allowing for arbitrary arrest and prosecution. This is the result of several drugs such as Dimethyltryptamine, GHB, and morphine being illegal to possess but also inherently present in all humans as a result of endogenous synthesis. Since some jurisdictions classify possession of drugs to include having the drug present in the blood in any concentration, all residents of such countries are technically in possession of multiple illegal drugs at all times.
The War on Drugs has stimulated the creation of international law enforcement agencies (such as Interpol), mostly in Western countries. This has occurred because a large volume of illicit drugs come from Third-World countries.
In Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory (1975), senior US government researchers Louis Jolyon West and Ronald K. Siegel explain how drug prohibition can be used for selective social control:
Academic Noam Chomsky argues that drug laws are currently, and have historically, been used by the state to oppress sections of society it opposes:
|“||Very commonly substances are criminalized because they're associated with what's called the dangerous classes, poor people, or working people. So for example in England in the 19th century, there was a period when gin was criminalized and whiskey wasn't, because gin is what poor people drink.||”|
Legal highs and prohibition
In 2013 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported that there are 280 new legal drugs, known as legal highs, available in Europe. One of the best known, mephedrone, was banned in the United Kingdom in 2010. On November 24, 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would use emergency powers to ban many synthetic cannabinoids within a month. An estimated 73 new psychoactive synthetic drugs appeared on the UK market in 2012. The response of the Home Office has been to create a temporary class drug order which bans the manufacture, import and supply but not the possession of named substances.
Drug possession is the crime of having one or more illegal drugs in one's possession, either for personal use, distribution, sale or otherwise. Illegal drugs fall into different categories and sentences vary depending on the amount, type of drug, circumstances, and jurisdiction.
In the U.S., the penalty for illegal drug possession and sale can vary from a small fine to a prison sentence. In some states, marijuana possession is considered to be a petty offense, with the penalty being comparable to that of a speeding violation. In some municipalities, possessing a small quantity of marijuana in one's own home is not punishable at all. Generally, however, drug possession is an arrestable offense, although first-time offenders rarely serve jail time.
Federal law makes even possession of soft drugs, such as cannabis, illegal, though some local governments have laws contradicting federal laws.
In the U.S., the War on Drugs is thought to be contributing to a prison overcrowding problem. In 1996, 59.6% of prisoners were drug-related criminals. The U.S. population grew by about +25% from 1980 to 2000. In that same 20 year time period, the U.S. prison population tripled, making the U.S. the world leader in both percentage and absolute number of citizens incarcerated. The United States has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the prisoners.
A Nielsen poll in 2012 found that only 27% of voters favoured decriminalisation. Australia has steep penalties for growing and using drugs even for personal use. with Western Australia having the toughest laws.
In the Netherlands, cannabis and other "soft" drugs are partly decriminalised in small quantities. The Dutch government treats the problem as more of a public health issue than a criminal issue. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is still illegal, mostly to satisfy the country's agreements with the United Nations. Coffee shops that sell cannabis to people 18 or above are tolerated in some cities, and pay taxes like any other business for their cannabis and hashish sales, although distribution is a grey area that the authorities would rather not go into as it is not decriminalised. Many "coffee shops" are found in Amsterdam and cater mainly to the large tourist trade; the local consumption rate is far lower than in the US.
Netherlands has the highest antidrug related public expenditure per capita of all countries in EU (139 EUR per capita, 2004).
Similarly to the rest of the European Union member states and American democracies, controlled drugs are illegal in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, illegal drugs are consumed worldwide, causing concern in the international community. According to the United Nations Drug Control Programme, results in the 2001 World Drug Report estimate "that the extent of drug abuse in the world involves about 180 million people, which represents 3% of the global population. The majority of drug users (80%) used cannabis, followed by amphetamine-type stimulants such as methamphetamine, amphetamine and substances of the ecstasy group (16%), cocaine (8%), heroin (5%) and other opiates (2%)".
The administrative bodies responsible for enforcing the drug policies include the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, and the Ministry of Finance. Local authorities also shape local policy, within the national framework. The prohibition policy is heavily influenced by the international community (through the United Nations), especially the neighboring states of France and Germany, which pressure the kingdom to be more strict, for they are directly affected through the illegal trafficking of narcotics coming from the Netherlands.
Legally, possession, manufacturing, trafficking, importation and exportation are forbidden. Nonetheless, it is not an offense to use drugs (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003). There are different penalties involved when breaking the law, which may include a monetary fine, imprisonment, or both. To apply the law, the government differentiates between "soft" and "hard" drugs. Soft drugs are considered to produce less harm to both the individual and society, these being used mainly for folk medicine and recreational purposes. This category encompasses cannabis (nederwiet), hashish and some fungi. Hard drugs are considered to cause considerable personal harm through addiction and physical detriment, as well as nuisance to society, by increasing crime and deteriorating families. Cocaine, heroin, etc. belong to this category.
Along with these two categories, there is a pyramid of priority when it comes to prosecution by law enforcement agencies.
- The handling and trade of hard drugs is on the zenith, being a joint target not only by the Netherlands, but also by the international community. This can be punished by maximum sentences of twelve years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to €45,000.
- The second priority is given to the production and trade of soft drugs. Deviation from the AHOJ-G criteria for coffee shops may result in up to four years of imprisonment and/or a fine of €45,000.
- The third priority focuses on hard drug users. Instead of labelling the users of hard drugs as "criminals", the state aims to rehabilitate users and prevent others from becoming addicted. However, disturbance to society caused by the consumption of hard drugs can result in one year of prison and/or a €11,250 fine. Lastly, individuals possessing more than five grams for personal consumption, or disturbing the public, can go to prison for one month and/or be fined €2,250.
There are varying rules within these categories, for example the amount possessed, the role played in the transaction and the intent of the goods.
Regarding coffee shops, the line between law and practice thins. A coffee shop is a heavily controlled business establishment where individuals can purchase a personal dose of soft drugs in the form of joints, pastry, drinks and packages. In theory illegal, these shops must abide by governmental and local regulations, as well as meet the AHOJ-G criteria, an acronym for: No Advertising, Hard drugs, Nuisance of any kind, Jongeren (minors under 18), and a limit of five grams per transaction. Additionally, the maximum stock at any time is five hundred grams. Local governments may impose additional rules, such as closing times, zoning (coffee shops may not be close to schools), and parking restrictions. The rationale behind coffee shops is to keep citizens away from the hard drugs scene, bringing them to a safe, social, and regulated environment.
When analysing the Dutch model, both disadvantages and advantages can be drawn when comparing the results with other countries. On a moral argument, tolerating soft drugs can be seen as the defeat of the government against hedonism. Additionally, decades of growing and perfecting cannabis and hashish has resulted in increased levels of the main active hallucinogenic constituent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as levels have doubled, making the derived products more powerful, and therefore requiring less to achieve the desired effect.
The coffee shop will lose its license if it caught selling to minors. Though there was a slight increase of use at the beginning, the rates balanced out some years later. The presence of coffee shops does not translate in public urge for experimentation. In fact, most people that did not consume drugs before the enhancement of the policy continue not to use them.
When compared to other countries, Dutch drug consumption falls in the European average at six per cent regular use (twenty-one per cent at some point in life) and considerably lower than the Anglo-Saxon countries headed by the United States with an eight per cent recurring use (thirty-four at some point in life). Experts have come to the conclusion that the policies applied do not play a striking role in these statistics, though there is debate over this issue (CEDRO, 2004).
While there has been talk for over a decade about preventing foreigners from entering Dutch cannabis coffeeshops by requiring customers to possess a 'weedpass', this legislation has not been enacted, so Dutch coffeeshops continue to sell cannabis openly to both locals and foreigners. However a small number of southern municipalities (including Roosendaal and Maastricht) in the Netherlands now require customers to carry identification proving that they are resident in the Netherlands.
In 2004, Australian citizen Schappelle Corby was convicted of smuggling 4.4 kilograms of cannabis into Bali, a crime that carried a maximum penalty of death. Her trial reached the verdict of guilty with a punishment of 20 years imprisonment. Corby claimed to be an unwitting drug mule.
In August 2005, Australian model Michelle Leslie was arrested with two Ecstasy pills. She pleaded guilty to possession and in November 2005 was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment, which she was deemed to have already served, and was released from prison immediately upon her admission of guilt on the charge of possession.
Methods of law enforcement
Because the possession of drugs is a victimless crime that can be committed in privacy, the enforcement of prohibitionist laws requires methods of law enforcement to inspect even private property. In societies with strong property laws or individual rights, this may present a risk for conflicts or violations of rights.
Disrupting the market relies on eradication, interdiction and domestic law enforcement efforts.
Through cooperation with governments such as those of Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan, coca (the plant source for cocaine) and poppy (the plant source for opium and heroin) are eradicated by the United States and other allies such as the United Kingdom, so that the crops cannot be processed into narcotics. Eradication can be accomplished by aerial spraying or manual eradication. However, the eradication is only temporary as the harvest fields can usually be replanted after a certain amount of time. The government of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has resisted criticism of aerial spraying of coca and poppy and has seen major reductions in both crops according to the United Nations Office of Crime and Drugs (See also Plan Colombia). In 2003, over 1,300 square kilometers of mature coca were sprayed and eradicated in Colombia, where at the start of the year, approximately 1,450 square kilometers had been planted. This strategic accomplishment prevented the production over 500 tonnes of cocaine, sufficient to supply all the cocaine users in both US and Europe for one year. Further, it eliminated upward of $100 million of illicit income in Colombia. No effect on prices or availability in the marketplace has been noted, and the actual number of acres of coca planted seems to have actually increased, largely shifting to more remote areas or into neighboring countries. Aerial spraying also has the unintended consequence of destroying legitimate crop fields in the process.
Interdiction is carried out primarily by aerial and naval armed forces patrolling known trafficking zones. From South America to the United States most drugs traverse either the Caribbean Sea or the Eastern Pacific, usually in "go-fast" boats that carry drug cargos and engines and little else. Drugs have also been smuggled in makeshift submarines. In 2015, a submarine with 12,000 pounds of cocaine was seized by the US Coast Guard off of the coast of Central America. This was the largest US drug seizure to date.
Investigation on drug trafficking often begins with the recording of unusually frequent deaths by overdose, monitoring financial flows of suspected traffickers, or by finding concrete elements while inspecting for other purposes. For example, a person pulled over for traffic violations may have illicit drugs in his or her vehicle, thus leading to an arrest and/or investigation of the source of the materials. The United States federal government has placed a premium on disrupting the large drug trafficking organizations that move narcotics into and around the United States, while state and local law enforcement focus on disrupting street-level drug dealing gangs.
Drug control strategy
Present drug control efforts utilize several techniques in the attempt to achieve their goal of eliminating illegal drug use:
- Disrupting the market for drugs
- Prevention efforts that rely on community activism, public information campaigns to educate the public on the potential dangers of drug use
- Law-enforcement efforts against elements of the supply chain, through surveillance and undercover work
- Providing effective and targeted substance abuse treatment to dependent users
Alternatives to prohibition
On February 11, 2009 a document called Drugs and democracy in Latin America: Towards a paradigm shift was signed by several Latin American political figures, intellectuals, writers and journalists as commissioners of the Latin American Initiative on Drugs and Democracy. The document questioned the war on drugs and points out its failures. It also indicates that prohibition has come with an extensive social cost, especially to the countries that take part in the production of illicit drugs. Although controversial, the document does not endorse either the production or consumption of drugs but recommends for both a new and an alternative approach. The document argues that drug production and consumption has become a social taboo that inhibits the public debate because of its relationship to crime and as consequence it confines consumers to a small circle where they become more vulnerable to the actions of organized crime. The authors also demand for a close review to the prohibitive strategies of the United States and the study of the advantages and limits of the damage reduction strategy followed by the European Union. The proposal uses three paradigms as an alternative:
- The treatment of consumption as a problem of public health.
- The reduction of consumption through the dissemination of information and prevention.
- A new focus towards organized crime.
The document favors the European policies towards drug consumption since according to the authors it is more humane and efficient. The signers of this document are: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ernesto Zedillo, Cesar Gaviria, Paulo Coelho, Enrique Santos, Mario Vargas Llosa, Moisés Naím, Tomas Eloy Martinez
Two years later in mid-2011, the core of the Initiative and its commission were extended and endorsed in a report issued by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Joining the three former presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Llosa on the Global Commission were former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz and Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker; Carlos Fuentes, Mexican writer and public intellectual; John C. Whitehead, formerly of Goldman Sachs; and Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
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- Harm reduction
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- Allegations of CIA drug trafficking
- School district drug policies
- Drug Policy Alliance
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