Thedecriminalisation of drugs is a hotly debated and controversial topicworldwide, with the common denominator being reducing drug abuse, the criminaland violent activity that goes along with it, and considering the best approachto public spending (on rehabilitation instead of incarceration, for example).
Drug use is a pressing issue and serious health problem across the world thataffects all races, genders, and socioeconomic strata. The decriminalisation ofdrugs, however, does not necessarily mean that consuming, selling, and possessingdrugs will be legal.Decriminalisation occurs when a state repeals or amends itslaws to make certain acts criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution1,while legalisation refers to when people face no legal punishment for anactivity2.
The drugs in question are those which are illegal in most countries such as stimulants(including ecstasy, amphetamines, and cocaine), depressants (such as Xanax),inhalants (such as nitrous oxide), opioids (including heroin, codeine, andmorphine), hallucinogens (such as LSD), dissociatives (such as ketamine andPCP), and cannabis3. There are many types ofdrug-related crimes; for example, the following offenses are illegal in Queensland,Australia: possessing, supplying, trafficking, driving under the influence of,and producing illegal drugs, possessing drug paraphernalia (such as bongs, pillpresses, and pipes), and permitting a place to be used for illegal drugactivity4.In most countries around the world, all of these offenses are illegal as well.The decriminalisation of drugs would have economic, legal,social, and health impacts worldwide, which must be evaluated and considered indetermining whether decriminalisation would be feasible.
Successes andchallenges in countries that have already decriminalised drugs must be assessedas well to decide whether decriminalisation can have the following positiveresults on a global scale: a greater number of people receiving rehabilitativehelp, reduced drug use, and lower levels of drug-related crime such astrafficking of drugs, arms, and people.Several countries have already decriminalised drugs, andseen both benefits and drawbacks. For example, the year 2001 saw thedecriminalisation of all drug use in Portugal, which now treats using andpossessing small amounts of previously illegal drugs as a public health probleminstead of a criminal issue, giving most attention to helping addicts insteadof punishing them5. This drug policy has seensuccesses in its objectives; for example, for every one million citizens, thereare only three deaths due to drug overdoses among Portuguese adults, much lowerthan in the U.K. (44.
6 deaths per million) and the EU average (17.3 deaths permillion)6.Additionally, drug use has fallen for youths aged 15-24 since 20017,and the rates of continuation of drug use (percentage of people who use illegaldrugs multiple times) have decreased in Portugal8.
This change can be attributed to the fact that when drugs are illegal, usersare less likely to seek rehabilitative help for fear of legal prosecution andsocial ostracism. However, decriminalisation has resulted in more drug usersseeking rehabilitation as they will not receive punishment or obtain a criminalrecord9,and also over time, Portuguese society has become more tolerant and inclusiveto drug abusers10. As a result of these twofactors, drug users have been successfully reintegrated into society afterfinding jobs and not breaking family ties; this would be impossible if the drugusers were incarcerated. The reintegration of addicts into society through jobplacement programs also prevents them from engaging in substance abuse again. In addition to a reduction in drug abuse, the incidence ofdrug-associated health problems has fallen in Portugal followingdecriminalisation. For example, between 2001 and 2012, the number ofnewly-diagnosed HIV cases among drug users in Portugal fell from 1,016 to 56per year, and the number of newly-diagnosed AIDS cases in drug users decreasedfrom 568 to 38 per year11.The decriminalisation of drugs in the Czech Republic also saw similar results,as less than 1% of drug users are infected with HIV12.
These statistics can be attributed in part to the government and outreachprograms providing addicts with fresh hypodermic needles to halt the spread ofHIV/AIDS through the sharing of contaminated needles in countries that havedecriminalised drugs. For example, in Mexico, the government provides addictswith hygienic needles to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS13.Thedecriminalisation of drugs saw positive legal implications in Portugal as well.For example, the number of people arrested and sent to criminal court over drugoffenses fell from 14,000 per year in 2000 to under 6,000 per year followingthe decriminalisation of drugs14.
Also, the percentage of drug-related offenders in Portuguese prison decreasedto under 21% in 2012 from 44% in 199915.These results may be seen if drugs are decriminalised on a global scale asgovernments will focus on, instead of criminally charging addicts, treatingthem at rehabilitation centres and not sending them to prison. This will also enablecourts to focus on other pressing issues and allocate taxpayer money towardsother issues rather than incarceration for drug use16.The decriminalisation of drugs will also reduce crimes which result fromunderground drug markets like theft, robbery, and assault as law enforcementcan devote more resources towards prosecuting drug dealers instead of users17. However,despite all these apparent benefits, decriminalising drugs may also have somedrawbacks on a global scale.
Firstly, the reason most drugs are illegal isbecause they have serious, negative, life-altering impacts on the human body,and the act of decriminalisation may promote greater use of dangerous drugs insome countries due to a lack of serious consequences for engaging in thisbehaviour. If more people experiment with drugs, it could lead to higheraddiction rates globally, which would pump more money into drug traffickingrings and promote related crimes such as illicit human and arms trade. Also,the decriminalisation of drugs may imply that the use of drugs is morallytolerable in society, which could create pro-drug stigmas in some societies. Highcost of implementing policy in poor countries, opportunity cost to spendinggovernment funds on treatment centres Iaddition, drugs have only been decriminalised in a few countries around theworld for a short amount of time; there is no telling the impact of such asignificant policy change on a global scale.
More studies should be performedto critically assess 1 http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/marijuana-legalization-and-decriminalization-overview.html2 https://www.economist.
com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/06/economist-explains-103 https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/drug-addiction/types-of-drugs/#gref4 https://www.qld.gov.au/law/crime-and-police/types-of-crime/drug-offences5 Ingraham, C. (2015) ‘Why hardly anyone dies from a drug overdose inPortugal’ , Washington Post. https://www.
co.uk/news/world/europe/portugal-decriminalised-drugs-14-years-ago-and-now-hardly-anyone-dies-from-overdosing-10301780.html7 Hughes, C. E.
and Stevens, A. (2012) ‘A resounding success or adisastrous failure: Reexamining the interpretation of evidence on thePortuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs’, Drug and Alcohol Review, vol.31, pp.
101-113. http://kar.kent.ac.uk/29901/1/ Hughes%20%20Stevens%202012.pdf8 Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência(2013) op.
cit., p. 21.9 Bushak, L. (2016) ‘Portugal’sDrug Experiment: Tackling Heroin Addiction By Decriminalizing Drugs AndFocusing On Health’, Medical Daily. http://www.medicaldaily.com/portugal-drug-experiment-heroin-decriminalizing-drugs-38259810 Ferreira, S.
(2017) ‘Portugal’s radical drugs policy is working.Why hasn’t the world copied it?’, The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/05/portugals-radical-drugs-policy-is-working-why-hasnt-the-world-copied-it 11 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2014)’Data and statistics’. http://www.
emcdda.europa.eu/data/201412 ‘These Four Countries Prove That Decriminalization Works BetterThan Prohibition’, The Influence. http://theinfluence.org/these-four-countries-prove-that-decriminalization-works-better-than-prohibition/13 http://www.prescriptiondrugabusehelp.com/pros-and-cons-of-decriminalizing-drug-addiction14 Data taken from Hughes, C.
E. and Stevens, A. (2010), p. 1009, and EuropeanMonitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2013) op. cit., p. 106.
15 Data for 1999 taken from Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência(2004) ‘Relatório Anual 2003 – A Situação do País em Matéria de Drogas eToxicodependências’, p. 141. http://www.
sicad.pt/PT/Publicacoes/Paginas/detalhe.aspx?itemId=11=SICAD_PUBLICACOES=BK/Publicacoes/ Data for year 2012 taken from Institutoda Droga e da Toxicodependência (2013) op.
cit., p. 105.16 http://www.addictionhelpcenter.com/pros-and-cons-of-decriminalizing-drug-addiction/17 http://overdosedrugalcohol.com/pros-and-cons-of-decriminalizing-drug-addiction