This paper focuses on comparing the arguments that have been raised on the issues of decriminalization, legalization and stricter drug control practices that have been adopted in different parts of the world as far as illicit drugs are concerned. The U.S. and many Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore have supported their stand to oppose decriminalization of hard drugs with arguments that their policies are guided by the intention to protect the public from various drug-related health effects. This argument differs from the arguments put across by proponents of the decriminalization of illegal drugs. Proponents of decriminalization of illicit drugs argue that it encourages responsible use of hard drugs. Legalization of these hard drugs has also provoked debates in different parts of the world. Those who support legalization of the drugs argue that the governments can allow people to trade freely in hard drugs so that they can raise revenue. Those who oppose the argument are of the opinion that it will increase drug abuse cases. Some countries have resorted to stricter drug control policies but since they have registered different results, they have intensified the debate surrounding illicit drugs.
Key words: decriminalization of drugs, drug, drug abuse, drug control policies
Drug Control Policies
Drug control policies are usually formulated to ensure that the public is provided with pharmaceutical care that is safe. In doing so, people are protected from fraudulent activities that may arise as pharmaceuticals are handled, distributed, and used. Illicit drugs have also risen to be a challenge as far as drug control policies are concerned. Following a series of criminal activities, violence and health consequences resulting from illicit drugs, many countries have been forced to come up with programs that are aimed at ensuring that the public keeps away from illicit drugs. It should also be noted that the use of illicit drugs has been on the rise in recent years. This trend has prompted different governments to be on the lookout for the most affected people such as the youths among other groups which are considered high-risk populations. This paper compares and contrasts the global debate that surrounds illicit drug decriminalization, legalization, and stricter drug control policies.
A Comparison of Drug Control Policies Global Debate
Illicit Drug Decriminalization
The use of illicit drugs has risen sharply in different societies of the world in recent times. This has seen the use and/or abuse of illicit drugs such as amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), marijuana, cocaine, and heroin rise among the members of the public. The use of these illicit drugs has come with a myriad of consequences, some of which have been positive while others have been negative. These mixed consequences have provoked a debate on the decriminalization of illicit drugs. Those who are of the opinion that illicit drugs should be decriminalized base their arguments on the benefits of illicit drugs that accrue to the society. It should be noted that various parties play a role in the preparation and distribution of illicit drugs. The proponents of illicit drug decriminalization argue that the trade of illicit drugs raises a lot of money, which can be used to benefit communities.
Different countries and organizations have taken different approaches on the debate about the decriminalization of illicit drugs. The United States and the United Nations, for instance, have been at the forefront in emphasizing the argument that illicit drugs are illegal and that participating in the preparation, distribution, and use of these illicit drugs constitutes criminal activities. The U.S. in particular has been cautious about illicit drugs such as marijuana because of the fear that such substances may eventually attract more people as in the case with tobacco. Consequently, the U.S. invests and spends heavily on law enforcement to ensure the use of illicit drugs reduces. However, groups supporting the decriminalization of illicit drugs such as marijuana in the U.S. argue that the efforts invested by states that have criminalized marijuana have been counterproductive. These groups argue that criminalization policies have led to overcrowding in criminal correctional facilities and increased the cost of preparing and distributing of illicit drugs.
The Netherlands on the other hand has adopted a different approach as far as the decriminalization of illicit drugs is concerned. The Netherland’s drug policy is based on the objective preventing the recreational use of illicit drugs. In the Netherlands, health issues are believed to be the main problems that come with the consumption of illicit drugs. For this reason, illicit drugs that are considered soft have been partly decriminalized in the Netherlands as long as they are used in small portions. Netherlands’ argument on the decriminalization of illicit drugs has received disapproval from various countries such as Germany and France. Such countries have particularly raised concerns about the Netherlands’ policy on marijuana, which allows people to be served small amounts of cannabis in coffee shops. Many countries in Europe have risen to oppose Netherlands’ approach arguing that it has contributed greatly to drug trafficking in Europe by serving as a transit point.
The approach taken by the Netherlands and decriminalization of certain illicit drugs in some countries seem to have convinced other countries to soften their stand on illicit drugs. However, some countries especially in Latin America have failed in the war against illicit drugs by adopting the decriminalization approach. Such countries argue that the war against illicit drugs cannot be successful, a move that has hindered them from trying new approaches. Countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina have resorted to partial decriminalization of illicit drugs. The governments of these countries allow their citizens to be in possession and/or to use small quantities of certain illicit drugs such as marijuana. Therefore, regulations on the use of illicit drugs in the three countries, Brazil especially, have changed in recent years following the enactment of a series of laws.
Many people argue that countries that have resorted to decriminalization of the use of small amounts of specific types of illicit drugs have registered some level of success. One major success that has been observed in most of these countries is a decrease in new HIV infections. Decriminalization in most of the countries have emphasized on the use of only small amounts of the drugs that citizens are allowed to use. In addition, the governments of such countries alongside non-governmental organizations have been championing for the safe ways of consuming the drugs. Many people have embraced this positively with Netherlands’ citizens consuming it in coffee shops. Portugal is yet another country that has registered success since decriminalization of drugs in 2001. Those who argue in favor of decriminalization of hard drugs have cited such examples to support their arguments by showing how decriminalization has gone a long way to reduce the consumption of illicit drugs. The argument is that most of the governments have enacted pieces of legislation to govern the production, distribution, and consumption of drugs.
Most of the Asian countries have come up with arguments that strongly oppose the decriminalization of illicit drugs. Such countries include Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia among others. The argument put across by these countries is that since illicit drugs are dangerous they should remain illegal. The countries also believe that as long as the drugs remain illegal, many people keep away from them and are therefore not at risk of suffering the myriad of health complications that result from the use of illicit drugs. The poor and youth are considered vulnerable populations in most parts of the world as far as the use of illicit drugs is concerned. Most of the governments in Asia and Middle East countries such as Afghanistan oppose the decriminalization of drugs because they believe that the move makes the drugs easily available to vulnerable groups. Therefore, such countries argue that criminalization of illicit drugs protects the public from the drugs, which have far-reaching effects.
Opponents of the decriminalization of illicit drugs argue that the drugs have led to many other disadvantages in communities apart from health problems. Many criminal activities linked to illicit drugs have been reported in different parts of the world. These cases have particularly been pronounced in countries such as the United States and Mexico. Conflicts have been the order of the day in regions that have high concentration of illicit drug users. There have been arguments that the distribution of illicit drugs has given room for the rise of gangs that are involved in the trafficking of the drugs. Such gangs are believed to be a part of most of the criminal activities that have been reported from such regions. Illicit drugs have also contributed to economic disturbances in such countries as Columbia and Jamaica. The economies of these countries have been destabilized partly due to the trade of illegal drugs. Trade involving drugs in such countries have always been characterized by corruption, which has spread to other sectors of the economy. Consequently, such countries have enacted strict policies that are aimed at eliminating the insanity that has been caused by the trade and the use of illicit drugs.
Some people argue that the hard-line positions taken by the U.S. and most of the countries from Asia and Middle East as far as the decriminalization of illicit drugs is concerned have brought more harm than good. For instance, in countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia the possession, trafficking, and use of illegal drugs attract stiff penalties including death. For this reason, people involved in the trade and use of these illegal drugs carry out their activities with secrecy. It is believed that this has made the industry very dangerous because those involved can do anything to protect themselves. Many people who abuse drugs also suffer silently from health problems developed as a result of continuous use of illicit drugs. Groups that oppose this approach argue that the governments of the affected countries have been preoccupied in pursuing those who are in a possession of the drugs while many people suffer silently. At the end of the day, nothing is gained because the negative effects of drug abuse continue to be felt in such countries.
From these arguments, it is evident that there is no connection between drug use and drug policy. Some groups argue in favor of strict policies because they have reaped rewards in some countries yet they have been largely unsuccessful or reaped mixed results in other countries. China for instance has been thorough in the fight against the use of illicit drugs by imposing some of the toughest penalties. However, the country still ranks among countries that promote the use of illicit drugs, whether intentionally or not. The country is a major transit point for the most of the illegal drugs being supplied to Asia. The country also supplies various chemicals used to produce heroin and cocaine. The U.S. has also been very vocal in the fight against illegal drugs. In fact, the country has always distanced itself from the countries involved in drug trafficking. Despite all the efforts invested by the U.S., illegal drug use in this country is among the highest in the world.
Legalization of Illicit Drugs
The war against illegal drug has provoked debates on the best way to manage or eliminate the use of illicit drugs in different parts of the world. Whereas some people argue that the fight against illicit drugs cannot be won, others are of the opinion that adopting new ways such as partially decriminalizing illegal drugs can help reduce irresponsible consumption of drugs. One of the major concerns of those who support the legalization of illicit drugs surrounds the safety of preparations methods used in the production of the drugs. Proponents of the legalization of illicit drugs propose that governments should use this opportunity to ensure that the drugs are prepared using safe amounts of chemicals under safe conditions. Having such policies in place will ensure that groups which can abide by the set policies do the preparation and distribution of drugs. The argument is that since the fight against illegal drugs has proven to be difficult, intervention is required to put security measures in place.
Other groups have supported the legalization of illicit drugs with the argument that some of them have medicinal value. Some countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, and Spain have legalized marijuana that is used in its medical state. This trend is also picking up in the U.S. with the capital in Washington and a host of other states such as Alaska and Colorado also legalizing the medical use of cannabis. In fact, a study conducted by Pew Research Centre in the U.S. revealed that the use of cannabis for medical purposes has gained a lot of support in the U.S. However, this argument has done little to convince such countries as China, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia from changing their stand. These countries still have strict rules that prohibit the use of marijuana and other illicit drugs.
The move by Portugal to legalize illicit drugs was not welcomed by many countries, especially in Europe. At the time when this new policy was rolled out, Portugal had one the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infections and users of hard drugs. Many argued that the move to legalize hard drugs would worsen the situation. However, years later Portugal is reaping the rewards. The public has found a way of using legalization to benefit itself. Before the legalization step was taken, many resources used to be channeled towards pursuing those who traded in hard drugs. Currently, these resources are being used to provide medical facilities to benefit addicts. Public response to this move has been positive because members of the public have nothing to fear any time they decide to seek help in order to come out of addiction. In addition, the argument that the number of new HIV/AIDS infections has reduced greatly since this new policy came into force makes sense to the country’s citizens.
The debate about the approach that should be adopted in dealing with illicit drugs has been complicated further by the confusion that has been created between decriminalization and legalization of hard drugs. While decriminalization allows people to be in a possession of drugs and to consume small amounts of these drugs, legalization gives people room to trade them in larger amounts. Proponents of decriminalization of hard drugs argue that it is a safer move because as much as it means that the public will be allowed to use the drugs, they will only be allowed to access small amounts which may not have fatal effects. On the other hand, proponents of the legalization of illicit drugs argue that if the members of the public can be allowed to use illicit drugs, legalization is the way to allow the governments to benefit through taxes as well.
Stricter Drug Control Policies
The increased use of hard drugs in different parts of the world has prompted the governments of the affected countries to put in place stricter policies to control the use of drugs. While strict laws provide one of the better solutions to the problem of illicit drugs, concerns have been raised on the application of double standards in fighting against the drugs. Some people argue that the fight against illegal drugs has always focused on specific substances, especially cannabis, heroin, and cocaine. Other drugs such as tobacco and alcohol which are also associated with fatal health hazards have not been given as much attention. Although the likes of alcohol and tobacco have been reported to cause serious psychological and physiological effects, they remain relatively unregulated in most parts of the world as well as other hard drugs. This argument has made people question the legal basis used to classify the drugs given that they are all intoxicants. For this reason, many people perceive arguments that support the strict policies that have been formulated to control drug use as illogical.
Strict drug control policies in various countries have come with great harm to the public. Since trade involving illicit drugs is highly profitable, many people have been attracted to the business of dealing in drugs. Mexico and Jamaica are among the most affected countries as far as this issue is concerned. Drug business in these countries has led to the emergence of warlords and powerful leaders of gangs that have terrorized people in different regions. This development has made the governments of the respective countries to invent the measures to solve the situation. In Mexico, for instance, the government resorted to the use of force from 2006 to 2010 during which about 28,000 people died. However, it has been argued that while this measure was aimed at reducing the trafficking and hence the use of hard drugs, it was counterproductive. This is because the argument has not managed to prevent people from seeing the fact that strict policies give room for the use of hard-line approaches most of which fail.
Canada and Sweden represent countries that have adopted strict policies to contain the supply and use of illicit drugs but yielded different results. Canada has been accused of adopting an approach that has led to massive wastage of resources and violation of people’s rights. The country argues that it is a demonstration of intolerance for those who go against rules that prohibit the use of illicit drugs. As a result, many people in Canada have been put behind the bars for being in possession of even small amounts of hard drugs. Some of the incarcerations have been viewed as unnecessary especially since Canada is viewed as a democratic country. Sweden has adopted a similar strict approach to hard drugs as well as Canada. However, Sweden has registered great success unlike Canada. Sweden’s approach has even received the approval of the citizenry because the penalties that offenders are subjected to are proportional with the severity of the drug-related crime committed. In addition, drug users who end up in jail are usually put under medical care. For this reason, Sweden boasts of having relatively lower levels drug users because its approach focuses both on preventing drug use and treating those who are addicted.
The fight against illicit drugs has taken different dimensions in different parts of the world. Different countries have come up with various drug control policies yielding varying degrees of success or failure, a situation that has sparked off debates on the most appropriate approaches that should be used. Decriminalization of hard drugs is one of the major debates that have been witnessed in recent times. Citizens in countries that have adopted this approach are allowed to use small amounts of specific types of hard drugs. Closely related to the issue of decriminalization is legalization of illicit drugs. Proponents of policies that support this approach argue that instead of allowing people to supply and consume small amounts of drugs, the governments should give people total freedom but take advantage of the situation to raise tax. Other countries have also adopted stricter drug control policies. These countries have registered varying results depending on the effects of the approaches to the public and the support they have received from the same public.