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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Drug liberalization is the process of eliminating or reducing drug prohibition laws. Variations of drug liberalization (also spelled liberalisation) include drug relegalization, drug legalization, and drug decriminalization.[1]



The cultivation, use and trade of psychoactive and other drugs has occurred since civilization's existence. In the 20th century, the United States government led a major renewed surge in drug prohibition called the "War on Drugs." Although the present War on Drugs is a modern phenomenon, drug laws have been a common feature of human law for several hundred years. Today's War on Drugs bears many similarities to earlier drug laws, particularly in motivation.

Motivations claimed by supporters of drug prohibition laws across various societies and eras have included religious observance, allegations of violence by racial minorities, and public health concerns. Those who are not proponents of anti-drug legislation characterize these motivations as religious intolerance, racism, and public healthism.

Various proponents of drug liberalization wish to repeal these laws for reasons ranging from individual rights-based defenses of liberty, to consequentialist arguments against the economic and social outcomes of drug prohibition. Starting in the 20th century, large organized movements to overturn existing drug laws formed around the world. The most vocal of these groups exist in liberal democracies, and typically attract liberal and libertarian supporters, although drug liberalization itself is a non-partisan issue and may be supported by adherents of any ideology.

The campaign against alcohol prohibition culminated in the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution repealing prohibition on December 5, 1933, as well as liberalization in Canada, and some but not all of the other countries that enforced prohibition. However, many laws controlling the use of alcohol continue to exist even in these countries.

Current proponents of drug liberalization seek the repeal or softening of drug prohibition laws, most commonly marijuana but also including other controlled substances such as alcohol, tobacco, opiates, stimulants, psychedelics, dissociatives, prescription drugs, and others.


There are numerous economic and social impacts of the criminalization of drugs. Prohibition increases crime (theft, violence, corruption) and drug price and decreases potency [2]. In many developing countries the production of drugs offers a way to escape poverty.

Milton Friedman estimated that over 10,000 deaths a year are caused by the criminalization of drugs, and if drugs were to be made legal innocent victims such as those shot down in drive by shootings, would cease to come about.

The economic inefficiency and ineffectiveness of such government intervention in preventing drug trade has been fiercely criticised by drug-liberty advocates. The War on Drugs of the United States, that provoked legislation within several other Western governments, has also garnered criticism for these reasons.


Drug liberalization proponents hold differing reasons to support liberalization, and have differing policy proposals. The two most common positions are drug relegalization (or legalization), and drug decriminalization.

Drug re-legalization

Drug re-legalization calls for the elimination of government control of specified (or all) drugs. Proponents of drug re-legalization typically either view drug prohibition as being inherently immoral, or alternatively may agree that some restrictions on drug availability can be justified but feel that drug prohibition does not work in practice. However not all proponents of drug re-legalization necessarily share a common ethical framework, and people may adopt this viewpoint for a variety of reasons.

Proposed schemes range from full legalization which would completely remove all forms of government control, to intermediate versions such as regulated legalization, where drugs would be legalized, but under a system of government control which might mean for instance that users would have to acquire a "dangerous drugs license" in order to purchase particular drugs, and might restrict the amount that could be purchased at one time, or the form that certain drugs would be supplied in. The regulated legalization system would probably have a range of restrictions for different drugs, depending on their perceived risk, so while some less dangerous drugs would be sold over the counter in pharmacies, drugs with greater risks of harm might only be available for sale on licensed premises where use could be monitored and emergency medical care made available.

Full legalization is often proposed by groups such as libertarians who object to drug laws on moral grounds, while regulated legalization tends to be a compromise suggested by groups such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who object to the drug laws on the grounds that they fail to achieve their stated aims and instead make the problems associated with illegal drug use worse, but acknowledge that there are harms associated with illegal drug use which need to be minimized.

Drug decriminalization

Drug decriminalization calls for reduced control and penalties compared to existing laws. Proponents of drug decriminalization generally support the use of fines or other punishment to replace prison terms, and often propose systems whereby illegal drug users who are caught would be fined, but would not receive a permanent criminal record as a result. A central feature of drug decriminalization is the notion of harm reduction.

Drug decriminalization is in some ways an intermediate between prohibition and legalisation, and has been criticised as being "the worst of both worlds", in that drug sales would still be illegal, thus perpetuating the problems associated with leaving production and distribution of drugs to the criminal underworld, while also failing to discourage illegal drug use by removing the criminal penalties that might otherwise cause some people to choose not to use drugs.

Drug liberalization movements in specific countries


In August 2009, the Argentine supreme court declared in a landmark ruling that it was "unconstitutional" to prosecute citizens for having drugs for their personal use - "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state".[3]


A dried flowered bud of the Cannabis sativa plant.

The cultivation of cannabis is currently illegal in Canada, with exceptions only for medical usage. However, the use of cannabis by the general public is tolerated to a certain degree and varies depending on location and jurisdiction,[4] and a vigorous campaign to legalize cannabis is underway nation-wide.

In 2001, the Globe and Mail reported that a poll found that 47% of Canadians agreed with the statement, "The use of marijuana should be legalized" in 2000, compared to 26% in 1975. [5] A more recent poll found that more than half of Canadians supported legalization. The development after the last election is however the opposite, a much more restrictive law with higher minimum penalties for drug crime is proposed by prime minister Harper.

Czech Republic

On December 14, 2009, the Czech Republic adopted a new law that took effect on January 1, 2010, and allows a person to possess up to 15 grams of marijuana or 1.5 grams of heroin without facing criminal charges. These amounts are higher (often many times) than in any other European country, making the Czech Republic the most liberal country in the world when it comes to drug liberalization.[6]


The drug policy of the Netherlands is based on 2 principles:

  1. Drug use is a public health issue, not a criminal matter
  2. A distinction between hard drugs and soft drugs exists

Cannabis remains a controlled substance in the Netherlands and both possession and production for personal use are still misdemeanors, punishable by fine. Cannabis coffee shops are also illegal according to the statutes.

However, a policy of non-enforcement has led to a situation where reliance upon non-enforcement has become common, and because of this the courts have ruled against the government when individual cases were prosecuted.


In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to abolish all criminal penalties for personal drug possession. In addition, drug users were to be targeted with therapy rather than prison sentences. Research commissioned by the Cato Institute and led by Glenn Greenwald found that in the five years after the start of decriminalisation, illegal drug use by teenagers had declined, the rate of HIV infections among drug users had dropped, deaths related to heroin and similar drugs had been cut by more than half, and the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction had doubled. However, Peter Reuther, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Maryland, College Park, while conceding that Portuguese decriminalization met its central goal of stopping the rise in drug use, suggests that the heroin usage rates and related deaths may have been due to the cyclical nature of drug epidemics[7].

Political parties

Political parties devoted to liberalizing drug control laws include libertarian parties as well as marijuana parties:

Cannabis parties

Cannabis political parties are formal political parties set up specifically to legalize cannabis. Given the nature of modern political systems their aims are often not exclusively about the use of the plant cannabis as a drug, but this is a major feature of them. They have been set up in 8 countries to date, including some regional branches. Some use the Marijuana Party name. Some use other names, including Ale Yarok (Green Leaf), Bloc pot, Grassroots Party and Legalise Cannabis Party. See Legal issues of cannabis.

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