Decriminalization of Drug Possession Doesn't Increase Drug Use, New Report Finds

Drug "legalization" is no mystery. A new report shows that there are many alternatives to drug prohibition -- and all of them improve things.

Alcohol prohibition in the United States -- in place from 1920 to 1933-- was a national ban on the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol. Ending alcohol prohibition in 1933 required a new constitutional amendment, repealing the one that made alcohol illegal in the first place. Yet many people act as though creating alternatives to drug prohibition (drug legalization) would be like changing one of the 10 Commandments.

Just like ending alcohol prohibition, making the current crop of drugs legal simply means changing the laws.

But changing the laws has been turned into a bloody legal and political battle that is about everything except drugs. Instead of endless rhetoric and empty speculation about how and why it can't be done, we need to be talking about actual solutions.

Mexico, which just elected a new president, appears ready to do whatever it takes to put an end to the horrific violence of failed drug prohibition policy that has already caused over 60,000 murders.

In the United States, the rise of overdose deaths is increasingly from "legal" pharmaceuticals -- showing that the need to change how we regulate and control dangerous drugs is an urgent matter for us too.

What most Americans don't realize is that drug laws are now changing around the world -- step by step and country by country. And a new report concludes that decriminalization of drug possession has not led to increase in drug use.

The report, published by Release, the U.K.'s "national centre of expertise on drugs and drug laws," reviews the evidence in 21 countries that have adopted some form of decriminalization and finds that the model of enforcement adopted has little impact on the rates of drug use in these countries -- but has a profound impact on the use of arrest and prisons for drug users. (In fact, the huge social and economic costs that accompany drug prohibition are a form of violence in themselves.)

The report, "A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalization Policies in Practice across the Globe", finds that "countries and States as disparate as Belgium, Estonia, Australia, Mexico, Uruguay, the Netherlands and Portugal have adopted different models of decriminalization." Some countries (Spain and the Netherlands) have been moving towards decriminalization since the 1970s -- with the result that their drug use rates are lower than in the United States.

It's time for the United States to shake its obsession with drug prohibition and join the successful global movement that is reducing the problems that come not from the drugs per se, which are amenable to smart and well tested medical and social policies, but to bad drug policies.

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