Proponents for legalizing marijuana as well as making it possible for anyone to buy weed online for medical reasons cite Europe as a good model for America to emulate. However, there is no uniform policy in Europe about the use of drugs. Although some countries in Europe have relaxed their laws regarding marijuana and other drugs, others have strict regulations in effect. Here are some examples of how individual countries in Europe are handling drug-related issues and how successful their policies are.
The country many consider having “led the way in the liberalization of drug policy” is the Netherlands. As early as 1976, “coffee shops” began selling marijuana in small doses. Officially possessing and selling marijuana is illegal, but shops are allowed to offer marijuana with some restrictions, such as no more than three grams, no minors, no alcohol, and no advertising. Proponents of legalized drugs often claim that drug dealers would lose all their business once marijuana is legalized, but this has not been the case for the Netherlands. The illegal drug trade is still thriving since coffee shops must purchase their marijuana from illegal sources. Another popular argument is that if marijuana were legalized the demand would decrease. Since the relaxation of regulations in the Netherlands, marijuana use has doubled.
Switzerland also has liberal drug policies. “In the late 1980s, Zurich experimented with what became known as Needle Park, where addicts could openly purchase drugs and inject heroin without police intervention.” The number of drug dealers and addicts quickly went from a few hundred to several thousand and crime in the area skyrocketed until officials and law enforcement closed down the park and reinstituted drug restrictions.
Portugal has also been highly publicized for its decision in 2001 to legalize “minor possession of all drugs”. Critics and skeptics alike prophesied huge increases in addiction and drug use. The Cato Institute recently published a study they did on the results of the policy. “[N]one of the nightmare scenarios from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for ‘drug tourists’ has occurred.” Instead, drug use, deaths, and sexually transmitted diseases have all decreased. Although the possession is no longer illegal, drug use remains so and people may still be stopped from having drugs. If they have less than a ten-day supply, however, they go before a “health commission” that recommends them to treatment rather than jail time. In short, Portugal has chosen to treat drug addiction as a disease rather than a criminal act.
“Like America, the various countries of Europe are looking for new ways to combat the worldwide problem of drug abuse.” Some policies have been more successful than others. Proponents for American legalization are right to suggest the US look to Europe for examples. With the variety of policies and multitudes of research into whether those policies are successful, America has the unique opportunity of observing many examples of possible drug regulations and can emulate the ones that are proven to work.