Fiction: Drug Legalization Works
Fact: Tolerant drug policies in other countries have led to higher drug abuse rates and negative social consequences.
Most nations have rejected drug legalization. As drug use levels in the United States have dropped in recent years, particularly marijuana use among young people, rates in European nations with less restrictive drugs laws have increased.
Some European drug prevention experts, such as David Raynes (National Drug Prevention Alliance in Great Britain ) reject legalization after seeing the impact it has had on the Netherlands. “No country alone, (as the Dutch have found to their cost) can operate a policy which is substantially more liberal than neighbours, without suffering from “drug tourism” or, as in the Dutch situation, a larger pool of drugs-linked criminality than it would otherwise have. There is the big lie that legalising drugs will take the criminality out of supply. What nonsense. Illegal traders who pay no taxes of any sort can always undercut legitimate traders.”
The Dutch Experience
- After allowing marijuana to be sold in certain cafes, the Government of the Netherlands reconsidered its legalization policy. Consumption of marijuana had nearly tripled from 15 to 44% among 18-20 year olds. Despite the Dutch Government’s policy to provide “medical” marijuana to patients through pharmacies, many individuals have chosen to obtain their marijuana through cafes. Part of the problem with the Dutch policy is that the price of pharmaceutical grade marijuana is prohibitive. According to Bas Kuik, spokesman for the Bureau of Medical Cannabis, another possible problem with the policy is that the pharmaceutical marijuana is made to be infused and drunk like tea or inhaled in a steam treatment, not for smoking. “Maybe that is a disappointment for people expecting to smoke but of course the Ministry of Health cannot encourage smoking.”1
- After years of support for cannabis cafes, the Dutch Government is having second thoughts. The number of Dutch marijuana coffeehouses dropped from 1179 in 1997 to 782 in 2002—decreasing 34% in five years. And 73% of Dutch towns do not allow cannabis cafes.
- Mayor of Maastricht Pushes Cannabis Cafes to Edge of City: According to a New York Times article, “the mayor (of Maastricht) wants to move most of the city's 16 licensed cannabis clubs to the edge of town, preferably close to the border” (with Belgium and Germany). Mayor Gerd Leers is reacting to growing concerns among residents who “complain of traffic problems, petty crime, loitering and public urination. There have been shootings between Balkan gangs. Maastricht's small police force…is already spending one-third of its time on drug-related problems.” Cannabis clubs have drawn “pushers of hard drugs from Amsterdam, who often harass people on the streets.” According to a police spokesman, the clubs have also attracted people looking to buy marijuana in quantity. Piet Tans, the police spokesman also stated that “People who come from far away don't just come for the five grams you can buy legally over the counter…They think pounds and kilos; they go to the dealers who operate in the shadows.”2
- In an interview with Radio Netherlands in the spring of 2005, Dutch Minister Han Hoogervorst said that “doctors and not very positive about prescribing cannabis to patients and patients prefer to buy marijuana from coffee shops where it is a lot cheaper.” In another interview with expatica news service Hoogervorst also “stressed that the medicinal properties of cannabis have never been proven. He also said that the use of cannabis also has had side effect such as psychoses. “I think that’s an enormous problem,” the Minister said.” 3
The Swiss Experiment
- Tolerant drug policies in Switzerland have resulted in an influx of drug users. In 1987, the Swiss Government permitted drug use and sales in a part of Zurich called Platzspitz, or “Needle Park.” By 1992, over 20,000 drug users congregated in the park, and the surrounding areas were overrun with crime. The park has been shut down and the experiment has been terminated.
The Canadian Experiment
- The aggressive decriminalization effort in Canada has resulted in the highest levels of pot use in 25 years. The Canadian Government released a report indicating that marijuana usage had increased to the same levels as the late 1970's. Kids were getting mixed messages about the dangers of marijuana during the 1990's when the decriminalization discussion was going on. According to the November 24, 2004 Canada Addiction Survey, marijuana use among Canadians has doubled since 1994. A decade earlier, 7.4% of respondents indicated they had used marijuana; usage levels are currently 14%. The study also indicates that there has been an increase in the number of Canadians using an injectable drug: the number rose from 132,000 in 1994 to 269,000 in 2004.
- In Ireland, the number of children treated for mental disorders caused by smoking cannabis has quadrupled since the government downgraded the legal status of the drug, according to an article in the Sunday Times (September 18, 2005). Addaction, an Irish drug charity, told the Times that “three months after police stopped arresting anyone found in possession of small amounts of the drug, the overall number of users treated for such conditions rose 42%.”
1“Dutch Prefer Cannabis Cafes to Pharmacies.” Deutsche Welle, February 7, 2005
2Marlise Simons, "A cultural relaxation that's no longer mellow," New York Times, August 20, 2006
3"Medicinal cannabis project in doubt," Expatica News, March 18, 2005