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A drug policy is the policy, usually of a government,[1] regarding the control and regulation of drugs considered dangerous, particularly those which are addictive. Governments try to combat drug addiction with policies which address both the demand and supply of drugs, as well as policies which can mitigate the harms of drug abuse, and for medical treatment. Demand reduction measures include prohibition, fines for drug offenses, incarceration for persons convicted for drug offenses, treatment (such as voluntary rehabilitation, coercive care,[2] or supply on medical prescription for drug abusers), awareness campaigns, community social services, and support for families. Supply side reduction involves measures such as enacting foreign policy aimed at eradicating the international cultivation of plants used to make drugs and interception of drug trafficking. Policies which may help mitigate the effects of drug abuse include needle exchange and drug substitution programs, as well as free facilities for testing a drug's purity.

Drugs subject to control vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, heroin is regulated almost everywhere; substances such as qat, codeine and even Tamiflu are regulated in some places,[3] but not others.

Most jurisdictions also regulate prescription drugs, medicinal drugs not considered dangerous but that can only be supplied to holders of a medical prescription, and sometimes drugs available without prescription but only from an approved supplier such as a pharmacy, but this is not usually described as a "drug policy".

International treaties[edit]

The International Opium Convention, signed in 1912 during the First International Opium Conference, was the first international drug control treaty. It went into force globally in 1919 when it was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. A revised Convention was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series in 1928. It also imposed some restrictions—not total prohibition—on the export of Indian hemp (cannabis sativa forma indica). In 1961 it was superseded by the international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to control global drug trading and use. The Convention banned countries from treating addicts by prescribing illegal substances, allowing only scientific and medical uses of drugs. It did not detail precise drug laws and was not itself binding on countries, which had to pass their own legislation in conformance with the principles of the Convention.[4]

Drug policy by country[edit]


Further information: Illicit drug use in Australia

Australian drug laws are criminal laws and mostly exist at the state and territory level, not the federal, and are therefore different, which means an analysis of trends and laws for Australia is complicated. The federal jurisdiction has enforcement powers over national borders.


Main article: Drug policy of Canada


See also: Drug policy of the Third Reich for the period 1933-1945.

Compared with other EU countries the drug policy of Germany is considered to be rather progressive but still stricter than, for example, in the Netherlands. In 1994 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that drug addiction was not a crime, as was the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. In 2000 the German narcotic law ("BtmG") was changed to allow for supervised drug-injection rooms. In 2002, a pilot study was started in seven German cities to evaluate the effects of heroin-assisted treatment on addicts, compared to methadone-assisted treatment. The positive results of the study led to the inclusion of heroin-assisted treatment into the services of the mandatory health insurance in 2009.


Main article: Drug policy of India


Liberia prohibits drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. Its drug laws are enforced by the Drug Enforcement Agency.[5]


Drug policy in the Netherlands is based on the two principles that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and that there is a distinction between hard and soft drugs. The reported number of deaths linked to the use of drugs in the Netherlands, as a proportion of the entire population, is one of the lowest of the EU.[6] The Netherlands is currently the only country to have implemented a wide scale, but still regulated, decriminalisation of marijuana. It was also one of the first countries to introduce heroin-assisted treatment and safe injection sites.[7] From 2008, a number of town councils have closed many so called coffee shops that sold cannabis or implemented other new restrictions for sale of cannabis, e.g. for foreigners.[8][9]

Importing and exporting of any classified drug is a serious offence. The penalty can run up to 12 to 16 years if it is hard drug trade, maximum 4 years for import or export of large quantities of cannabis. Investment in treatment and prevention of drug addiction is high when compared to the rest of the world. Netherlands spends significant more per capita than all other countries in EU on drug law enforcement, 75% of drug-related public spending is law enforcement. Drug use remains at average Western European levels and slightly lower than in English speaking countries.


According to article 8 of the Constitution of Peru, the state is responsible for battling and punishing drug trafficking. Likewise, it regulates the use of intoxicants. Consumption of drugs is not penalized and possession is allowed for small quantities only. Production and distribution of drugs are illegal.


In July 2001, a law maintained the status of illegality for using or possessing any drug for personal use without authorization. The offense was however changed from a criminal one, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the possessing was no more than up to ten days' supply of that substance.[10] This was in line with the de facto Portuguese drug policy before the reform. Drug addicts were then to be aggressively targeted with therapy or community service rather than fines or waivers.[11] Even if there are no criminal penalties, these changes did not legalize drug use in Portugal. Possession has remained prohibited by Portuguese law, and criminal penalties are still applied to drug growers, dealers and traffickers.[12]


Main article: Drug policy of Sweden

Sweden's drug policy has gradually turned from lenient in the 1960s with an emphasis on drug supply towards a policy of zero tolerance against all illicit drug use (including cannabis). The official aim is a drug-free society. Drug use itself became a punishable crime in 1988; personal usage does not result in jail time if it is not in combination with driving a car.[13] Prevention includes widespread drug testing, and the penalties range from fines for minor drug offenses up to a 10-year prison sentence for aggravated offenses. The condition for suspended sentences could be regular drug tests or submission to rehabilitation treatment. Drug treatment is free of charge and provided through the health care system and the municipal social services. Drug usage that threatens the health and development of minors could force them into mandatory treatment if they don't apply voluntary. If the usage threatens the immediate health or the security of others (such as a child of an addict) the same could apply to adults.

Among 9th year students, drug experimentation was highest in the early 1970s, falling towards a low in the late 1980s, redoubling in the 1990s to stabilize and slowly decline in 2000s. Estimates of heavy drug addicts have risen from 6000 in 1967 to 15000 in 1979, 19000 in 1992 and 26000 in 1998. According to inpatient data, there were 28000 such addicts in 2001 and 26000 in 2004, but these last two figures may represent the recent trend in Sweden towards out-patient treatment of drug addicts rather than an actual decline in drug addictions.[14]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Sweden has one of the lowest drug usage rates in the Western world, and attributes this to a drug policy that invests heavily in prevention and treatment as well as strict law enforcement.[15] The general drug policy is supported by all political parties and, according to the opinion polls, the restrictive approach receives broad support from the public.[16][17] The UNODC report, has been criticized for being unscientific and fundamentally biased in favor of repressive drug laws, and that no causal connection has been shown to exist between Sweden's drug use statistics and its drugs policy.[18]


The national drug policy of Switzerland was developed in the early 1990s and comprises the four elements of prevention, therapy, harm reduction and prohibition.[19] In 1994 Switzerland was one of the first countries to try heroin-assisted treatment and other harm reduction measures like supervised injection rooms. In 2008 a popular initiative by the right wing Swiss People's Party aimed at ending the heroin program was rejected by more than two thirds of the voters. A simultaneous initiative aimed at legalizing marijuana was rejected at the same ballot.

Between 1987 and 1992, illegal drug use and sales were permitted in Platzspitz park, Zurich, in an attempt to counter the growing heroin problem. However as the situation grew increasingly out of control, authorities were forced to close the park.

United Kingdom[edit]

Drugs considered addictive or dangerous in the United Kingdom are called "controlled substances" and regulated by law. Until 1964 the medical treatment of dependent drug users was separated from the punishment of unregulated use and supply. This arrangement was confirmed by the Rolleston Committee in 1926. This policy on drugs, known as the "British system", was maintained in Britain, and nowhere else, until the 1960s. Under this policy drug use remained low; there was relatively little recreational use and few dependent users, who were prescribed drugs by their doctors as part of their treatment. From 1964 drug use was increasingly criminalised, with the framework still in place as of 2014 largely determined by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.[20]:13–14

United States[edit]

Modern US drug policy has still roots in the war on drugs started by president Richard Nixon in 1971. In the United States, illegal drugs fall into different categories and punishment for possession and dealing varies on amount and type. Punishment for marijuana possession is light in most states, but punishment for dealing and possession of hard drugs can be severe, and has contributed to the growth of the prison population.

US drug policy is also heavily invested in foreign policy, supporting military and paramilitary actions in South America, Central Asia, and other places to eradicate the growth of coca and opium. In Colombia, U.S. president Bill Clinton dispatched military and paramilitary personnel to interdict the planting of coca, as a part of the Plan Colombia. The project is often criticized for its ineffectiveness and its negative impact on local farmers. President George W. Bush intensified anti-drug efforts in Mexico, initiating the Mérida Initiative, but has faced criticisms for similar reasons.

May 21, 2012 the U.S Government published an updated version of its Drug Policy[21] The director of ONDCP stated simultaneously that this policy is something different than "War on Drugs":

  • The U.S Government see the policy as a “third way” approach to drug control one that is based on the results of a huge investment in research from some of the world’s preeminent scholars on disease of substance abuse.
  • The policy does not see drug legalization as the “silver bullet” solution to drug control.
  • It is not a policy where success is measured by the number of arrests made or prisons built.[22]

The U.S. government generates grants to develop and disseminate evidence based addiction treatments.[23] These grants have developed several practices that NIDA endorses such as community reinforcement approach and community reinforcement and family training approach,[24] which are behavior therapy interventions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Entities at all levels, from international organisations, national governments, local government departments, down to individual night clubs, may have stated drug policies.
  2. ^ Tännsjö, T. (1999). Coercive Care. 
  3. ^ Banned Drugs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (codeine and Tamiflu are included)
  4. ^ BBC: The UK's Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), 19 February 2009
  5. ^ DEA Destroys Over LD$10 Million Drugs, AllAfrica, 2011-10-04. Accessed 2012-06-03.
  6. ^ EMCDDA Annual Report 2009, page 84
  7. ^ Fischer B, Oviedo-Joekes E, Blanken P, et al. (July 2007). "Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) a decade later: a brief update on science and politics". J Urban Health 84 (4): 552–62. doi:10.1007/s11524-007-9198-y. PMC 2219559. PMID 17562183. 
  8. ^ AFP: Dutch towns close coffee shops in 'drug tourists' crackdown, Oct 24, 2008
  9. ^ "Selling soft drugs is not a right even in the Netherlands"
  10. ^ EMCDDA: Drug policy profiles, Portugal, June 2011
  11. ^ "Portugal legalizes drug use". BBC News. 7 July 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/823257.stm. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
  12. ^ http://www.beckleyfoundation.org/bib/doc/bf/2007_Caitlin_211672_1.pdf
  13. ^ Lawline: Påföljd vid ringa narkotikabrott, 2007-04-21
  14. ^ CAN:Drug Trends in Sweden 2007, page 7-11
  15. ^ UNODC: Sweden's successful drug policy, 2007
  16. ^ European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction: National report Sweden, 2006
  17. ^ NATIONAL DRUG POLICY: SWEDEN Prepared for The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canada 2002.
  18. ^ Peter Cohen: Looking at the UN, smelling a rat: A comment on ‘Sweden’s successful drug policy: a review of the evidence’ UNODC september 2006
  19. ^ Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. "Drug policy". Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  20. ^ An Analysis of UK Drug Policy - A Monograph Prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission, Peter Reuter, University of Maryland, Alex Stevens, University of Kent, April 2007
  21. ^ Principles of Modern Drug Policy. Whitehouse.gov.
  22. ^ Statement of the Government of the United States of America World Federation Against Drugs 3rd World Forum, May 21, 2012, Stockholm, Sweden. Whitehouse.gov (September 21, 2012).
  23. ^ Milford, J.L. Austin, J.L. and Smith, J.E.(2007). Community Reinforcement and the Dissemination of Evidence-based Practice: Implications for Public Policy. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 3(1), 77-87 BAO
  24. ^ Meyers, R.J., Smith, J.E. & Lash, D.N. (2005): A Program for Engaging Treatment-Refusing Substance Abusers into Treatment: CRAFT. IJBCT, 1(2), Page 90 -100 BAO

External links[edit]


Articles and videos[edit]

Academic articles[edit]

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Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:14:07 -0700

Josh Gordon has no one to blame but himself for his year-long suspension for another positive drug test. Yes, the NFL rules on marijuana are misguided and out of touch, but disliking a law isn't a defense for breaking it. The uproar over Ray Rice's two ...
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Decades later, he is tasked with spearheading the Obama administration's drug policy, which is largely predicated on the idea of shifting people with addiction into treatment and support programs and away from the criminal justice system. Botticelli's ...

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Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:12:56 -0700

Organizers will also have six drug-sniffing canines, plus additional plainclothes security and signs warning guests about the concert's zero-tolerance drug policy. Bank also touted his medical staff, saying it would “be able to quickly treat any ...
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Tue, 26 Aug 2014 09:33:21 -0700

Over the past few years, the White House has shifted its drug policy away from putting low-level offenders in jail and prison and toward helping them access addiction treatment -- an approach that dovetails with the life of acting drug czar Michael ...
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CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) - A Cleveland police officer will soon be back on the force. He was fired in July for violating the department's drug policy. After several hours of discussion and public outcry, the Cleveland city council voted unanimously to give ...
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