New Study Shows That Tough Drug Laws Don’t Work

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In a new report on different countries’ drug laws issued by the U.K.’s Home Office, the Coalition Government found that there is no direct link between tough drug laws and levels of drug use.

The 11 countries investigated (Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.S. and Uruguay) all have very different approaches toward drug use, ranging from drug courts to heroin-assisted treatments to prison to the legalization of marijuana. Although the report was careful to note that “levels of drug use are influenced by factors more complex and nuanced than legislation and enforcement alone” and that drug use varies “considerably between countries with similar policies,” it also stated that the investigators did not observe any “apparent correlation between the ‘toughness’ of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug use.”

In Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalized for personal use since 2001, health outcomes have actually improved. “Although levels of drug use rose between 2001 and 2007, use of most drugs has since fallen to below-2001 levels. It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001,” says the report. This is not necessarily due to decriminalization, however, as Portugal maintains a health-based system that offers users the help they need to stop using drugs.

The Czech Republic, however, showed adverse health outcomes after larger amounts of drugs were criminalized in 2010 (small amounts are still considered an administrative offense and are punished only by a fine).

The report also mentions that even after the Czech Republic’s stricter drug laws were implemented, there was no significant decline in the availability of drugs.

The Czech Republic and Portugal have similar approaches to possession, where possession of small amounts of any drug does not lead to criminal proceedings, but while levels of drug use in Portugal appear to be relatively low, reported levels of cannabis use in the Czech Republic are among the highest in Europe,” says the report.

No concrete conclusions are reached; as the the Guardian points out, “Endless coalition wrangling over the contents of the report… has ensured that it does not include any conclusions.” Nevertheless, the statistical evidence is inescapable — countries that have tougher drug laws have shown no improvement in drug usage levels. While the report is clear that drugs are harmful to both individuals and society, it acknowledges these findings and advocates a more health-based approach like that of Portugal, stating that “prevention and treatment are a key element of responses to drugs in the U.K.”