Decriminalisation of Drugs

This article will help you understand the implications of drug decriminalisation, along with some examples of countries that have already taken this step.

Understanding the Fine Line Between Decriminalisation and Legalisation

At least 67 countries consider drug use, consumption, and/or possession for personal use to be crimes.

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According to classical liberalism, people should be allowed to act in accordance with their own self-interest, and they should have more rights than collective entities like the state, such as the right to free expression.

Liberalisation proponents contend that even if certain actions are potentially detrimental, the state has the political authority to forbid capable persons from choosing to engage in them. The state should not “interfere” with a person’s decision.

Decriminalisation is frequently used to refer to a middle ground between legalisation and prohibition. Criminal charges are not levied when drug usage and possession are decriminalised. However, drug legalisation eliminates all punishments for drug possession and usage for personal purposes.

The Desperate Need for Drug Policy Reform

The prosecution of drug users, growers (person who grows drugs), and other small participants, along with excessive enforcement methods, have all contributed to social isolation, health issues, and mass incarceration around the world. This has also led to a war on drugs.

The current drug rules have failed miserably for several reasons, the first of which being health concerns. With more than 70,000 fatalities, drug overdoses were the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States in 2019, according to the Centres for Disease Control.

Drug policies that are “tough on drugs” limit access to life-saving initiatives like needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy, which pushes drug users who need support away from care and treatment.

Many claim that mass incarceration is a growing problem. One in five prisoners around the world is there for drug-related offences, most of them for simple personal possession. Prosecution is another factor that demands reforming current drug laws.

At least 3,000 people are currently on death row worldwide for drug-related offences. And more than 4,000 persons received death sentences for drug-related offences between 2008 and 2018.

Finally, fund drain. Around $100 billion is spent each year on policing and seizing illegal substances globally. It is frequently suggested that this money could instead be utilised to improve public health responses and increase access to social assistance and welfare programmes.

Impact Drug Decriminalisation May Have on Economy

The government at all levels spends almost $100 billion a year to combat the drug problem, of which $35 billion is designated specifically for projects in criminal justice and law enforcement. Legalising drugs might result in annual savings of $50 billion, which could rise to $150 billion if one considers the money spent on unproductive drug suppression initiatives.

A person’s health is impacted by substance abuse. Economically, this reflects increased hospital and healthcare costs, as well as increased rates of morbidity and mortality.

Heroin, marijuana, and cocaine are the three narcotics that people seek treatment for most commonly. Just one in six drug users is thought to be problem user. At the cost of nearly $35 billion yearly, over 4.5 million patients globally receive the necessary care. All those expenses are connected to the constraints placed on the judicial system and law enforcement.

Debate Surrounding Drug Decriminalisation

As everything has two sides, there is a debate surrounding drug decriminalisation. You will now gain an understanding of that.

Arguments Presented in Favour

Most people believe using drugs is a “victimless crime,” meaning that only the user is in danger. If consenting individuals’ private lives are not endangering others, the government has no power to impose limitations on them. Everyone has the freedom to decide whether to use drugs.

Secondly, there may be huge financial and resource savings if the policing of the illegal drug trade is reduced. Many people think that narcotics could be employed medically, such as cannabis. It’s a widely held belief that if drugs were legal, it would be easier to identify and treat addicts.

Addiction to drugs should be treated as a medical issue rather than a legal one. If it’s illegal to purchase and possess drugs, addicts are pushed underground. The legalisation of drugs might be accompanied by improved avenues for recovery and assistance for addicts.

Arguments Presented Against

Contrary to what was previously asserted, there have been many worries that making more lethal drugs like heroin legal will simply lead to an increase in addiction and fatalities. Even if the most dangerous narcotics remained illegal, less harmful drugs would only be used as a step on the way to more dangerous ones.

Many people are concerned that drug gangs may continue to operate if the government heavily taxes a market for legalised narcotics. This might comprise producing the drugs on-site or in secret.

Others have stated that drug tourists may visit countries where drugs are legal or decriminalised. This might be advantageous in terms of pure economics, but it might also result in worrying and unpleasant behaviour.

Most importantly, many who support drug prohibition and punishment argue that legalising drugs will send the wrong message and imply that drug use is more socially acceptable. Despite a wealth of contradictory evidence, it might also suggest that consuming drugs is safe.

Scenarios of Nations That Have Decriminalised Drugs

Here are some nations that decriminalised drugs and their landscape post that.

Portugal

Portugal’s decriminalised drug policy has been highlighted as evidence that easing drug regulations doesn’t lead to an increase in illicit drug use or its negative effects. This argument is mostly supported by data from 2009 Cato Institute research.

Even though the results are encouraging, the conclusions demonstrate that these policies have ambiguities and contradictions that have persisted throughout their history from the beginning as well as a set of constrained goals, particularly when it comes to the implementation of harm reduction measures.

For the past ten years, tougher penalties, including jail terms, have been directed at drug users. Drug use is eluding its reputation as a phenomenon that occurs at the margin of society because of Portuguese sociocultural transition and the diversity of drug use patterns, seen later in Portugal but similar to primary European trends.

Uruguay

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise marijuana. Uruguay decriminalised drug possession in 1974, but the country’s attempt to make all drugs lawful caused controversy.

In 2021, up to 1196 kg of cocaine paste were discovered. 4673 people were jailed, while 1467 other persons were found guilty of narcotics trafficking. Likewise, the current government of Uruguay asserted that it had seized nearly 17.5 million Uruguayan pesos and $743000 from organised crime gangs—a record amount.

India’s Drug Policy

India is a party to the 1988 Convention against Illegal Trade in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961 Convention) (1988 Convention).

There are two major laws that underwent a series of amendments with regard to India’s domestic drug policy:

  1. Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act
  2. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act)

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is India’s top law enforcement and intelligence organisation tasked with preventing the use and trafficking of illegal drugs and aims at full enforcement of the 2 domestic laws. Anyone who violates the NDPS Act shall be punished according to the amount of the prohibited substance they use. Any of the prohibited substances may not be grown, produced, manufactured, possessed, sold, bought, transported, stored, consumed, or distributed unless necessary for medical or scientific research and in accordance with applicable laws, orders, and licence terms.

Conclusions and Suggestions

The decriminalisation of drugs is a topic that should be approached with extreme caution. There have been a few notable suggestions, including whether nations or states should set maximum-quantity thresholds that include local drug consumption while seeking decriminalisation through threshold limits. If threshold restrictions are set too low, the policy may not have any impact, it may lengthen incarcerations, or it may increase the number of incarcerations.

Decriminalisation programmes should be expanded along with harm reduction and treatment measures, such as medication-assisted therapy.

States should, at the very least, categorise possession of illegal narcotics as a misdemeanour or an infraction to mitigate the severe repercussions that come with a felony conviction in the absence of decriminalisation.

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Kavya Srinivasan
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