The justice ministry is promoting reform of the legal framework on narcotics entailing de-criminalisation of use of drugs but strict penalties for traffickers, Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou said on state radio on Tuesday. According to the minister, the user will be dealt with as a patient, noting that Greece has some 350 drug-related deaths annually, while 5,000 inmates in the country’s prison system have been incarcerated on drug charges.
And my opinion on this law… I am totally and without a doubt against it for many reasons, which I have listed further down, but being open minded I also take into consideration the points that experts say on this, even though I do not agree with them.
I think Stephen Rolles’ article in the British Medical Journal says it best:
Consensus is growing within the drugs field and beyond that the prohibition on production, supply, and use of certain drugs has not only failed to deliver its intended goals but has been counterproductive. Evidence is mounting that this policy has not only exacerbated many public health problems, such as adulterated drugs and the spread of HIV and hepatitis B and C infection among injecting drug users, but has created a much larger set of secondary harms associated with the criminal market. These now include vast networks of organised crime, endemic violence related to the drug market, corruption of law enforcement and governments.
These conclusions have been reached by a succession of committees and reports including, in the United Kingdom alone, the Police Foundation, the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, the Royal Society of Arts, and the UK Drug Policy Consortium. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has also acknowledged the many “unintended negative consequences” of drug enforcement.
The editor of the British Medical Journal, Dr Fiona Godlee, gave her personal support to Rolles’ call for decriminalisation, and the arguments drew particular support from Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, who said we should be treating drugs “as a health issue rather than criminalising people” and “this could drastically reduce crime and improve health”.
Danny Kushlik, head of external affairs at Transform, said the intervention of senior medical professionals was significant. “Sir Ian’s statement is yet another nail in prohibition’s coffin,” he said. “The Hippocratic oath says: ‘First, do no harm’. Physicians are duty bound to speak out if the outcomes show that prohibition causes more harm than it reduces.”
Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council, made comments in a report in the profession’s magazine, in which he said that drug-related crime costs the UK economy about £13bn a year and that there was growing evidence that decriminalisation could free up police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health.
A report sponsored by the New York County Lawyers’ Association, one of the largest local bar associations in the United States, argues on the subject of US drug policy:
Notwithstanding the vast public resources expended on the enforcement of penal statutes against users and distributors of controlled substances, contemporary drug policy appears to have failed, even on its own terms, in a number of notable respects. These include: minimal reduction in the consumption of controlled substances; failure to reduce violent crime; failure to markedly reduce drug importation, distribution and street-level drug sales; failure to reduce the widespread availability of drugs to potential users; failure to deter individuals from becoming involved in the drug trade; failure to impact upon the huge profits and financial opportunity available to individual “entrepreneurs” and organized underworld organizations through engaging in the illicit drug trade; the expenditure of great amounts of increasingly limited public resources in pursuit of a cost-intensive “penal” or “law-enforcement” based policy; failure to provide meaningful treatment and other assistance to substance abusers and their families; and failure to provide meaningful alternative economic opportunities to those attracted to the drug trade for lack of other available avenues for financial advancement.
Moreover, a growing body of evidence and opinion suggests that contemporary drug policy, as pursued in recent decades, may be counterproductive and even harmful to the society whose public safety it seeks to protect. This conclusion becomes more readily apparent when one distinguishes the harms suffered by society and its members directly attributable to the pharmacological effects of drug use upon human behavior, from those harms resulting from policies attempting to eradicate drug use.
With aid of these distinctions, we see that present drug policy appears to contribute to the increase of violence in our communities. It does so by permitting and indeed, causing the drug trade to remain a lucrative source of economic opportunity for street dealers, drug kingpins and all those willing to engage in the often violent, illicit, black market trade.
Meanwhile, the effect of present policy serves to stigmatize and marginalize drug users, thereby inhibiting and undermining the efforts of many such individuals to remain or become productive, gainfully employed members of society. Furthermore, current policy has not only failed to provide adequate access to treatment for substance abuse, it has, in many ways, rendered the obtaining of such treatment, and of other medical services, more difficult and even dangerous to pursue.
Arguments that prohibition discourages drug use
A 2001 Australian study of 18-29 year olds by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research suggests that prohibition deters illicit drug use. 29% of those who had never used cannabis cited the illegality of the substance as their reason for never using the drug, while 19% of those who had ceased use of cannabis cited its illegality as their reason.
Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the US ONDCP argues,
Controls and prohibitions help to keep prices higher, and higher prices help keep use rates relatively low, since drug use, especially among young people, is known to be sensitive to price. The relationship between pricing and rates of youth substance use is well-established with respect to alcohol and cigarette taxes. There is literature showing that increases in the price of cigarettes triggers declines in use.”
The DEA argues “Legalization has been tried before—and failed miserably. Alaska’s experiment with legalization in the 1970s led to the state’s teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska’s residents to vote to re-criminalize marijuana in 1990.”
Drug Free Australia has cited the Netherlands as an example of drug policy failure because it is soft in approach. They argue that the Dutch idea of going soft on cannabis dealers, thereby creating a ‘separation of markets’ from hard drug dealers has failed to stem the initiation to drugs such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, saying that, in 1998, the Netherlands had the third highest cannabis and cocaine use in Europe. According to Barry McCaffrey of US Office of Drug Control Policy, Dutch tolerance has allowed the Netherlands to become a criminal epicentre for illicit synthetic drug manufacture, particularly ecstasy, as well as the home for production and worldwide export of strains of cannabis with THC reportedly 10 times higher than normal. Gil Kerlikowske has attested that, where there were once thousands of cannabis cafés there are now only several hundred. Levels of cannabis use, in 2005 only marginally higher than in 1998, while other European countries have accelerated past them, are more likely, Drug Free Australia argues, the result of a growing intolerance of cannabis in the Netherlands rather than a growing tolerance. Drug Free Australia has also argued that British reductions in cannabis use after softer legislation may be moreso the result of heavy UK media exposure of the stronger evidence of links between cannabis and psychosis.
Arguments that prohibition does not discourage drug use
It has been suggested that drug law reform could reduce the use of hard drugs as it has in countries such as The Netherlands. According to a 2009 annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the Dutch are among the lowest users of marijuana or cannabis in Europe, despite the Netherlands’ policy on soft drugs being one of the most liberal in Europe, allowing for the sale of marijuana at “coffee shops”, which the Dutch have allowed to operate for decades, and possession of less than 5 grams (0.18 oz).
British Crime Survey statistics indicated that the proportion of 16 to 24 year-olds using cannabis decreased from 28% a decade ago to 21%, with its declining popularity accelerating after the decision to downgrade the drug to class C was announced in January 2004. The BCS figures, published in October 2007, showed that the proportion of frequent users in the 16-24 age group (i.e. who were using cannabis more than once a month), fell from 12% to 8% in the past four years.
The use of drugs by minors is much more difficult to control with drugs prohibited. To effectively regulate the sellers of drugs so as to ensure that they only sell drugs to adults, drugs must be legalized, and the sellers licensed. With drugs prohibited, sellers are “underground” and therefore nearly impossible to control. Licensed sellers in a community sometimes attempt to increase their income by selling to minors, but when the community suspects such activity, it is a trivial task to discover which of the licensed sellers is breaking the law, and then put them out of business. Underground sellers may adhere to a “code or honor” and not sell to minors, but, when they do sell to minors, it is very difficult to expose. The difficulty results from the somewhat sophisticated culture of underground drug sales and use that has evolved, with one of the most fundamental adaption mechanisms of this culture that the sellers and consumers act such in such a manner so as to make it as difficult as possible for outsiders to discover information about their activities, including, of course, who is selling to whom.
Arguments that cannabis is a gateway drug
The US Drug Enforcement Agency’s “2008 Marijuana Sourcebook” argues that recent research supports the gateway hypothesis that certain drugs (such as cannabis) act as gateways to use of harder drugs such as heroin, either because of social contact or because of an increasing search for a better high. Proponents cite studies such as that of 311 same sex twins, where only one twin smoked cannabis before age 17, and where such early cannabis smokers were five times more likely than their twin to move on to harder drugs.
Arguments that cannabis is not a gateway drug
Several research studies have addressed the question whether cannabis leads to the use of harder drugs such as alcohol, cocaine and heroin, and concluded that it does not act as a gateway drug. A study of drug users in Amsterdam over a 10-year period conducted by Jan van Ours of Tilburg University in the Netherlands concluded that cannabis is not a stepping stone to using cocaine or heroin. The study found that there was little difference in the probability of an individual taking up cocaine as to whether or not he or she had used cannabis.
The US Institute of Medicine found no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.
In the American Journal of Public Health, Andrew Golub and Bruce Johnson of the National Development and Research Institute in New York wrote that young people who smoked marijuana in the generations before and after the baby boomers did not appear to be likely to move on to harder drugs.
Researchers from the independent Rand Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, California, looking at data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse between 1982 and 1994, concluded that teenagers who took hard drugs did so whether they had first tried cannabis or not.