Current Global Debate on Illicit Drug Decriminalization, Legalization and Stricter Drug Control Policies

Introduction

There are increasing number of people involved in drug use and abuse. The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime estimates that between 172 million and 250 million people used illicit drugs in 2009 and close to 38 million of that segment of population were drug dependent (Abadie, Diamond, & Hainmueller, 2010). Indeed drug use and dependence is a threat to the global health, being one of the top ten risks in the developed countries. The social and economic costs associated with drug use have created intense global debate on use of illicit drugs. Many legislations and policies have been formulated across various countries to control, decriminalize and legalize the use of illicit drugs. The paper will focus on the contrast in the current global debate on illicit drug decriminalization, legalization and stricter drug control policies.

Comparison and Contrast on Current Global Debate on Illicit Drug Decriminalization, Legalization and Stricter Drug Control Policies

The global war on drugs can be considered as a failure, and has caused devastating consequences for societies across the globe. According to (Carlos et al., 2013), the illicit drug use strategies that have been implemented over the past decades have failed to work. Since the inception of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs over half a century ago and the launch of war on drugs by president Nixon, 40 years ago, many policy makers believed that the implementation of harsh laws on those involved in drug production, distribution and use would lead to an ever-decreasing use of drugs.

However, over that course of the period, the production, distribution and use of illicit drugs has been on the rise globally. Despite the growing evidence of the failure of the policies in place to combat use of illicit drugs, the international and national policymakers have offered a deaf ear to the public scrutiny debates. This is evident from the varying policy frameworks that have been adopted in various countries, though some countries in Europe have tried other interventions such as decriminalization and legalization of illicit drugs with huge successes.

The alternative schemes of law enforcements on use of licit drugs that have been at the center of global debates are decriminalization, legalization and strict drug control polices. According to (Thompson, 2014), drug decriminalization is defined as the admistrative approach other than the criminal justice system, to drug use, for example, the use of community service, suspension of professional licenses and fines.  In contrast, the legalization involves the amendment of law in order to get rid of the criminal or administrative processes and any sanctions that govern the production, distribution and use of illicit drugs.

Many countries continue to pursue varying legislative perspectives on production, distribution, possession and use of illicit drugs. Some countries, such as the Portugal have decriminalized the use of illicit drugs, while the possession and use of illicit drugs remain strictly prohibited in the United States (Hughes & Stevens, 2010). Among the countries that have decriminalized the possession and use of drugs, their variations in the variables that define the maximum quantity thresholds distinguishes between drug trafficking, possession and use offences. For example, in Mexico, one cannot be prosecuted for being in possession of 0.5g of cocaine, while Spain allows possession of up to 6.5g. However, in other countries there are even harsher regulations on possession and use of illicit drugs. For example, in Singapore, South Arabia, Iran and China, the possession and use of illicit drugs such as cocaine is punishable through hanging sentence.

In 2001, Portugal became the first country in Europe to decriminalize the possession and use of any type of illicit drug. According to (Hughes & Stevens, 2010), the burden of the drug use and dependence of drug law enforcement on the criminal justice system saw the decriminalization of illicit drug. The country adopted the strategy of defining the quantity thresholds and use of therapeutic approaches to help the individuals who depend on drugs. Although many policymakers initially feared that the adoption of decriminalization of use of illicit drug would increase their use, current research findings have shown that it has greatly reduced the abuse of illicit drugs in the country.

Although other countries have adopted similar policies of decriminalization of illicit drugs, the use of Marijuana, for instance is decriminalized in the United States, while it remains legal in the Netherlands (Abadie, Diamond, & Hainmueller, 2010). However, some states, such as California have legalized use of Marijuana only for medical purposes, the possession and use of the drug remains illegal in the country. More states, led by the public interest groups continue to advocate for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, although the FDA research reveals the negative impact of the drug on health. Consequently, the federal government act (the Drug Control Act) makes the production and consumption of marijuana illegal despite the various state legislations that allow it to be used for medical purposes.

According to (Abadie, Diamond, & Hainmueller, 2010), there is a stark contrast in the regulatory environments between Amsterdam and San Francisco. In Amsterdam, there are “cannabis cafés” while in San Francisco; the use of marijuana is criminalized. According to the author, a research into the impact of legalization of use of marijuana in Amsterdam reveals no impact on the increase in the abuse of the drug. On the other hand, the author asserts that studies of the impact of criminalization of use of marijuana in San Francisco reveals no impact on the decrease in the abuse of the drug.

More states in the United States continue to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, the federal laws prohibit the production, distribution and possession of marijuana. Similarly, the studies done to determine the impact of legalization of marijuana in the states that have policies that allow the use of the drug for medical purposes have revealed no significant increase in the use of the drug. In light of the findings in the states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and in the countries that the drug remains legal, it is evident that the policy of harsh punishment on the use of marijuana has failed. It is also worth to note, as highlighted earlier in the paper that the use of illicit drugs has increased steady since the introduction of punitive measures by president Dixon, four decades ago. This further points the negative impact or perhaps the failure of harsh punitive laws that criminalizes the production, distribution, possession and use of illicit drugs. In fact, there is a stark contrast in the policy measures that have been adopted in the United States and countries that have decriminalized the use of illicit drugs.

There exist draconian laws, which prohibit the possession and use of the illicit drugs. In South Arabia, Iran and Singapore, the national laws not only prohibit the use of illicit drugs. The laws in these countries give harsher punishment, even death for possessing and using illicit drugs. However, people in these countries continue to use illicit drugs. The question remains, why would people still possess and use the illicit drugs even when they know they face death penalties? Perhaps, we should draw the attention to the approach employed in countries such as Czech Republic, whose rates remain low compared to those of the United States. Rather than criminalize the possession and use of illicit drugs, there is need to look at the problem as a health issue.

In as much as the possession and use of illicit drugs is a criminal offence in the United States, under the federal law, (Thompson, 2014) points the negative repercussions of legalization of illicit drugs. According to the author, the experiment by the Swedish government to legalize the use of opiates and amphetamines became botched and resulted in increased use and sale of the drug.  The Swedish government legalized the use of opiates and amphetamines for medical purposes, which were prescribed by doctors to groups of patients in the doses that they requested. The patients, who legally received the drugs from the doctors, distributed them to friends and relatives. In the end, it led to an increase in intravenous use of the opiates and amphetamines in the country.

The experiment further reaffirms the inability of criminalization in reduction of abuse of illicit drugs. The Swedish drug experiment was carried on a small segment of the population and involved only two forms of illicit drugs.  It is quite hard to imagine how legalized prescription of opiates and amphetamines to 150 people could contribute to the rise in use of the illicit drugs. Perhaps the prescription of the drugs to patients just amplified the problem of the use of the illicit drugs, which already existed within the population. Although the country’s population remains low, it still spends significant amount of its GDP on drug abuse prevention compared to its neighbours with relatively small population, where the use of illicit drugs is decriminalized (Thompson, 2014).

In as much as the United States still spends significant portion of its gross domestic product on drug abuses and related problems, the country scores significantly the same in other aspects of illicit drug regulations. In Peru, India, Spain and Turkey, cocaine is legally produced. Cocaine remains a schedule 8 drug in the country, which is regulated and is legally permitted to be cultivated, transported, sold and possessed on medical grounds. The drug remains illegal in various countries including Hong Kong, Bolivia, Bahamas, Australia and New Zealand. However, in light of the international experience, one can propose the drug to be legally produced.

According to (DiNardo, 1993), the legal production of cocaine that are dully registered and credited could help in meeting the international demands for the medical needs of its users. Cocaine production remains legal in Peru, with the author point to no impact of the production of the drug on the increase in the number of users. The possession of cocaine is classified as a criminal activity in the United States and one can face prison term of up to 20 years if convicted. In the United Kingdom, cocaine is classified as class A drug, which is prohibited for use even got medical purposes.

Despite the numerous evidence of success of the decriminalization policies, and the legalization of illicit drugs the Drug Enforcement Administration offers contrasting views on the legalization and decriminalization of illicit drugs. According to the (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010) illicit drugs are dangerous and pose great danger to the United States if the country adopts more permissive policies. The author further points that the policies in place, in the United States were well developed based on the experience and that they are excellent in the fight against use of illicit drug use. This reflects a glaring difference from the points adopted by other countries, and has been proven to be effective in reduction of illicit drug use.

While reckoning that marijuana is not the only drug that moves between Mexico and the United States, (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010) alludes the fact that just like the lifting of the alcohol prohibitions in 1933, the decriminalization of drugs will not control drug trafficking. A critical look at the position of the Drug Enforcement Administration shows a complete contrast to most European illicit drug control strategies. There are believes in the United States that the enforcement of harsh drug control policies will prevent the use of illicit drugs.

Moreover, the Drug Enforcement Administration argues that the Food and Drug Administration has reviewed all the available research evidence and concluded that marijuana is a mind-altering drug. Therefore, the Drug Enforcement Administration finds it impossible to understand how the introduction of a third substance through decriminalization and legalization would be beneficial. Indeed, according to the (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010), over 12 million Americans are struggling with the problem of drug abuse and addiction, a fact that the Drug Enforcement Administration accepts.

The Drug Enforcement Administration asserts the need for the development of a health care strategy to deal with the individuals who have an addiction problem. While this might be a health approach towards the problem of substance abuse, it does not solve the cause of the problem, but rather cures the symptoms. The approach that was adopted by Portugal, Czech Republic and Greece among other European countries incorporates the health approach to the decriminalization of the illicit drugs. The arguments of these European countries are that there are no correlations between the increase in abuse of illicit drugs and its legalization. In contrast, the United States is of the view that the present data reveals no benefits of legalization of illicit drugs exists. Rather, the legalization of illicit drugs is meant to increase to the burden of the already huge demands of the substance addiction in the country.

There are global debates on the call for the legalization of illicit drugs as a means of generation of revenues. As highlighted earlier, many proponents of the decriminalization citing that legalization of illicit drugs does not pose any threat to the drug users, point the importance of legalization of illicit drugs for the purpose of generation of revenues. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration pursues a rather different perspective to the general global perspectives. The Drug Enforcement Administration asserts that the research on the revenues generated from the legalization of cigarettes in the United States consume more funds in the fight against problems associated to the smoking of cigarettes than the revenues from cigarettes provides (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010). The authors point that the costs of rehabilitation and treatment because of consumption outweighs the revenues attained from the sale of the illicit drugs. This is contrast to the view of use of drugs as a health problem, as adopted by the European countries such as Portugal and Czech Republic.

Moreover, (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010) points towards the ethical considerations of the legalization and decriminalization of the use of illicit drugs. According to the author, decriminalization of illicit drugs is equal to allowing for the producers and the distributors to profit from the addiction caused by the illicit drugs. According to the authors, the high number of deaths that result from addiction and overuse of illicit drugs is not worth the revenues attained from the decriminalization of illicit drugs.

Studies reveal that the legalization of use of marijuana in Netherlands and prescription of heroin in Britain was met with the rise in use of drugs across the segments of the population in the two countries. According to (Drug Enforcement Administration, 2010) the enactment of the strict drug control policies in these two countries helped the two countries to reverse the trends of new youthful use of the illicit drugs. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration asserts that marijuana remains schedule I drug, which is prohibited in the United States.

In addition, the country is bound by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which prohibits the production, distribution and consumption of illicit drugs. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) asserts that no illicit drug must be produced and distributed unless there is scientific evidence that proves it does not affect the society. Moreover, such approvals must not be left solely to be determined by the interest groups, as is the case with the legalization of marijuana in the country. Therefore, regardless of the legality of marijuana in some states such as California remains illegal to be produced by individuals and is governed by the Drug Control Act.

The proponents of the prohibition of illicit drugs points to the increase in the organized crime owing to the prohibition of illicit drugs. However, the United States have contrary views, pointing to the historical developments that altered the voter priorities and that organized crimes existed even before the prohibition of illicit drugs. (Abadie, Diamond, & Hainmueller, 2010), points that the historical analysis on the impact of prohibition of production and distribution of illicit drugs shows that it led to a decline in the consumption of the illicit drugs until the great depression that altered the voter’s rights. During the prohibition, there was a decline in alcohol consumption and the number of people admitted due to cirrhosis dropped dramatically. Similarly, there was a decline in the number of arrests for disorderly conduct, while there was no rise in the organized crime during the same period.

Indeed, there is a glaring difference in the legalization and decriminalization of illicit drugs across the globe. The European countries that have successfully decriminalized and legalized drugs report a reduction in the number of people involved in drug abuse and reduction in organized crime. Moreover, the countries that have legalized or decriminalized the production, distribution and possession of illicit drugs have adopted the view of drug use as a health problem, incorporating the therapeutic process in their legislation processes.

One glaring difference between the European and the criminalization in the United States is that the perspective adopted by the United States is rooted to the scientific and historical findings. However, the European and United States still view the use of illicit drugs as a health problem, as evidenced by the huge amounts of money spend in the rehabilitation and treatment centers to assist the addicts.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there remains a consensus on the common ground for the global decriminalization and legalization of illicit drugs. Although the evidence exists, which shows the reduction in use of illicit drug upon decriminalization and legalization, some countries such as the United States, Singapore and South Arabia remain reluctant to decriminalize and legalize use of illicit drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration points to lack of scientific evidence that decriminalization reduce use of illicit drugs, while Portugal decriminalized illicit drugs with successful reduction in the use of illicit drugs. However, both countries have adopted the same view of illicit drug use as a health problem. There remains more to be learned on which direction the debate will head

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