Over the last few years, the debate over whether drug laws do anything to combat drug use has heated up in the U.S. Similar debates have been ongoing all across the world, with countries taking a variety of approaches to handling the problem of drug use. With marijuana legalization in full swing in Colorado and Washington, international interest in drug laws and policies has been focused on the U.S. However, a study released by The Home Office, a ministerial department in the U.K., on Wednesday examined the issue on an international level. The report looked at eleven different countries, notably Portugal and the Czech Republic, to identify whether harsh drug laws had any actual effect on drug use.
The study provided an in-depth analysis of drug laws in 11 different countries. The examined countries, and their drug laws, covered the whole spectrum, from zero-tolerance in Japan to full legalization in Uruguay. According to the Guardian, the report’s most significant finding was a comparison of Portugal, where personal use has been decriminalized since 2001, and the Czech Republic, where stricter penalties on possession were passed as recently as 2010.
“We did not in our fact-finding observe any obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country,” said the report. Despite Portugal and the Czech Republic having previously had very similar laws regarding possession of small amounts of drugs, drug use in Portugal is fairly low, while the Czech Republic has some of the highest levels of cannabis use in Europe. The report’s detailed analysis of Portugal points out that the results of experimental drug law policies may take years to even out. “Although levels of drug use rose between 2001 and 2007, use of drugs has since fallen to below 2001 levels,” the report says of Portugal. By contrast, the report indicates that the Czech Republic’s new laws have done little to reduce the availability and use of pot in the country.
While the report appears to favor health-based approaches to drug policies over criminal justice-based ones, there is no real conclusion reached by the study’s authors, likely because of “coalition wrangling” over the contents reports the Guardian. Nevertheless, the study’s author insists that Washington and Colorado should be watched with interest by the rest of the world, because the results of legalization in those states may sway future policies in several countries.