Drug policy

Drug policy

A drug policy most often refers to a government's attempt to combat the negative effects of drug addiction and misuse in its society. Governments try to combat drug addiction with policies which address both the demand and supply of drugs, as well as policies which can mitigate the harms of drug abuse. Demand reduction measures include prohibition, fines for drug offenses, incarceration for persons convicted for drug offenses, treatment (such as voluntary rehabilitation or coercive care[1] for drug abusers), awareness campaigns, community social services, and support for families. Supply side reduction involves measures such as enacting foreign policy aimed at eradicating the international cultivation of plants used to make drugs and interception of drug trafficking. Policies which may help mitigate the effects of drug abuse include needle exchange and drug substitution programs, as well as free facilities for testing a drug's purity.


Drug policy by country


Political aims

Legal regulation of drugs

Drug prevention policy

Drug treatment policy

Harm reduction policy

There is a movement in Australia to make some substances decriminalised, particularly cannabis, making the possession of such a non-convictable offence in most states (however, the definition of what constitutes possession can differ between states). As a result of the decriminalisation, the punishments for drug use and drug dealing in Australia are typically very small, with many convicted small-time drug dealers not having to spend any time in jail[citation needed] .

In 2007 reported a federal parliamentary committee that it has found the Government's harm-minimization policy is not effective enough. It has recommended a zero-tolerance approach for drug education in schools. The committee also wants the law changed so children can be put into mandatory treatment for drug addiction.[2]

There is an associated pro-drugs culture amongst a significant number of young Australians. The popular national youth radio station Triple J often refers to drug use with a neutral sentiment, rarely discouraging their use. Many take this neutrality as an encouragement to use drugs, and a feeling of drug use being acceptable in Australia. However, there is law enforcement targeting drugs for ex. in traffic[3] or in the party scene.



Compared with other EU countries the drug policy of Germany is considered to be rather progressive but still stricter than for example the Netherlands. In 1994 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that drug addiction was not a crime, as was the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. In 2000 the German narcotic law ("BtmG") was changed to allow for supervised drug-injection rooms. In 2002, a pilot study was started in seven German cities to evaluate the effects of heroin-assisted treatment on addicts, compared to methadone-assisted treatment. The positive results of the study led to the inclusion of heroin-assisted treatment into the services of the mandatory health insurance in 2009.


Drug policy in the Netherlands is based on the two principles that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and that there is a distinction between hard and soft drugs. The reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands, as a proportion of the entire population, is one of the lowest of the EU.[4] The Netherlands is currently the only country to have implemented a wide scale, but still regulated, decriminalisation of marijuana. It was also one of the first countries to introduce heroin-assisted treatment and safe injection sites.[5] From 2008 have a number of town councils closed many so called coffee shops that sold cannabis or implemented other new restrictions for sale of cannabis, e.g. for foreigners.[6][7] Tourist are to be banned from all Dutch Coffee shop before end of 2011.[8]

Importing and exporting of any classified drug is a serious offence. The penalty can run up to 12 to 16 years if it is hard drug trade, maximum 4 years for import or export of large quantities of cannabis. Investment in treatment and prevention of drug addiction is high when compared to the rest of the world. Netherlands spends significant more per capita than all other countries in EU on drug law enforcement, 75% of drug related public spending is law enforcement. Drug use remains at average Western European levels and slightly lower than in English speaking countries.


In July 2001, Portugala new law 30/2000 maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. The offense was however changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the possessing was no more than up to ten days' supply of that substance.[9] This was in line with the de facto Portuguese drug policy before the reform. Drug addicts were then to be aggressively targeted with therapy or community service rather than fines or waivers.[10] Even if there are no criminal penalties, these changes did not legalize drug use in Portugal. Possession has remained prohibited by Portuguese law, and criminal penalties are still applied to drug growers, dealers and traffickers.[11]


Sweden's drug policy has gradually turned from lenient in the 1960s with an emphasis on drug supply towards a policy of zero tolerance against all illicit drug use (including cannabis). The official aim is a drug free society. Drug use itself became a punishable crime in 1988, but drug users have been of priority since the early eighties. Prevention includes wide spread drug testing, and the penalties range from fines for minor drug offenses up to a 10 year prison sentence for aggravated offenses. The condition for suspended sentences could be regular drug tests or submission to rehabilitation treatment. Drug treatment is free of charge and provided through the health care system and the municipal social services. Drug usage that threatens the health and development of minors could force them into mandatory treatment if they don't apply voluntary. If the usage threatens the immediate health or the security of others (such as a child of an addict) the same could apply to adults.

Among 9th year students, drug experimentation was highest in the early 1970s, falling towards a low in the late 1980s, redoubling in the 1990s to stabilize and slowly decline in 2000s. Estimates of heavy drug addicts have risen from 6000 in 1967 to 15000 in 1979, 19000 in 1992 and 26000 in 1998. According to inpatient data, there were 28000 such addicts in 2001 and 26000 in 2004, but these last two figures may represent the recent trend in Sweden towards out-patient treatment of drug addicts rather than an actual decline in drug addictions.[12]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Sweden has one of the lowest drug usage rates in the Western world, and attributes this to a drug policy that invests heavily in prevention and treatment as well as strict law enforcement.[13] The general drug policy is supported by all political parties and, according to the opinion polls, the restrictive approach receives broad support from the public.[14][15] The UNODC report, has been criticized for being unscientific and fundamentally biased in favor of repressive drug laws, and that no causal connection has been shown to exist between Sweden's drug use statistics and its drugs policy.[16]


The national drug policy of Switzerland was developed in the early 1990s and comprises the four elements of prevention, therapy, harm reduction and prohibition.[17] In 1994 Switzerland was one of the first countries to try heroin-assisted treatment and other harm reduction measures like supervised injection rooms. In 2008 a popular initiative by the right wing Swiss People's Party aimed at ending the heroin program was rejected by more than two thirds of the voters. A simultaneous initiative aimed at legalizing marijuana was rejected at the same ballot.

United Kingdom

United States

Modern US drug policy is still largely based on the war on drugs started by president Richard Nixon in 1972. In the United States, illegal drugs fall into different categories and punishment for possession and dealing varies on amount and type. Punishment for marijuana possession is light in most states, but punishment for dealing and possession of hard drugs can be severe, and has contributed to the growth of the prison population.

US drug policy is also heavily invested in foreign policy, supporting military and paramilitary actions in South America, Central Asia, and other places to eradicate the growth of coca and opium. In Colombia, U.S. president Bill Clinton dispatched military and paramilitary personnel to interdict the planting of coca, as a part of the Plan Colombia. The project is often criticized for its ineffectiveness and its negative impact on local farmers. President George W. Bush intensified anti-drug efforts in Mexico, initiating the Mérida Initiative, but has faced criticisms for similar reasons.

The U.S. government generates grants to develop and disseminate evidence based addiction treatments.[18] These grants have developed several practices that NIDA endorses such as community reinforcement approach and community reinforcement and family training approach,[19] which are behavior therapy interventions.

See also


  1. ^ Tännsjö, T. (1999). Coercive Care. http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en 
  2. ^ ABC News: Govt drug policy 'should be zero-tolerance' Thu Sep 13, 2007
  3. ^ ABC News: ACT Govt planning to introduce roadside drug testing Thu May 1, 2008
  4. ^ EMCDDA Annual Report 2009, page 84
  5. ^ . PMC 2219559. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=2219559. 
  6. ^ AFP: Dutch towns close coffee shops in 'drug tourists' crackdown, Oct 24, 2008
  7. ^ "Selling soft drugs is not a right even in the Netherlands"
  8. ^ Tourists Face Weed Ban In Dutch Coffee Shops, Sky News, May 28, 2011
  9. ^ EMCDDA: Drug policy profiles, Portugal, June 2011
  10. ^ "Portugal legalizes drug use". BBC News. 7 July 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/823257.stm. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
  11. ^ http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/bib/doc/bf/2007_Caitlin_211672_1.pdf
  12. ^ CAN:Drug Trends in Sweden 2007, page 7-11
  13. ^ UNODC: Sweden's successful drug policy, 2007
  14. ^ European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: National report Sweden, 2006
  15. ^ NATIONAL DRUG POLICY: SWEDEN Prepared for The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canada 2002.
  16. ^ Peter Cohen: Looking at the UN, smelling a rat: A comment on ‘Sweden’s successful drug policy: a review of the evidence’ UNODC september 2006
  17. ^ Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. "Drug policy". http://www.bag.admin.ch/themen/drogen/00042/00624/index.html?lang=en. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  18. ^ Milford, J.L. Austin, J.L. and Smith, J.E.(2007). Community Reinforcement and the Dissemination of Evidence-based Practice: Implications for Public Policy. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 3(1), 77-87 BAO
  19. ^ Meyers, R.J., Smith, J.E. & Lash, D.N. (2005): A Program for Engaging Treatment-Refusing Substance Abusers into Treatment: CRAFT. IJBCT, 1(2), Page 90 -100 BAO

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