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|The Drug Legalization Debate|
Chapter Three: The Experience of Foreign Countries and Drug Legalization
I. Their Argument
Proponents of legalization suggest that the experiences of countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland prove the efficacy of legalizing or decriminalizing various types of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. They maintain that because such drugs are legal, these countries have fewer addicts and less drug-related crime.
II. Our Argument
The statements of the legalizers here are empirically untrue. As we discuss each country in turn, it will be shown that legalization did not work in any of them.
A. Great Britain
With the report of a government commission known as the Brain Committee of 1964, England instituted a policy whereby doctors could prescribe heroin so long as they followed certain treatment criteria.47 Previously in England, doctors could prescribe heroin much like any other opiate (such as morphine). This allowed a few unscrupulous doctors to sell ungodly amounts of heroin to members of the black market.48 Consequently, it was believed that if heroin were offered at medical clinics according to stringent rules and regulations, addicts would come to these clinics to seek treatment and eventually would overcome their habit.
As of 1983, however, England began to phase out these programs of clinically supplied heroin in favor of methadone treatment.49 Why? First, according to the reputable British physician journal Lancet, the number of addicts increased 100% between 1970 and 1980.50 A disproportionate number of these new addicts were between the ages of sixteen and seventeen.51 Second, only twenty percent of all of the addicts in England belonged to the clinical programs.52 At first blush, this fact seems strange - why would addicts choose not to participate in a program wherein they get free methadone? The answer probably lies in the fact that methadone does not produce the high that heroin does. Also, addicts probably did not care for the mandatory treatment and rehabilitation facets of the clinical programs. Whatever the reason, by 1985 England had 80,000 heroin addicts, the vast majority of whom wen not in treatment.53
A third reason why England began to abolish its clinical heroin program was the fact that not only were there few people, in them, but the programs themselves did not work. According to the British Medical Journal, more addicts left the program because of criminal convictions than because of treatment.54 Fourth, even with the clinical programs, heroin addicts had a death rate twenty-six times the average population. Finally, even when the programs were in operation, Scotland Yard had to increase its narcotics division 100% in order to cope with the increased crime rate.56
To summarize, the British experience with decriminalized heroin in the clinical context was a dismal failure. When experts from British Columbia were debating whether to create a similar program, they made the following conclusions that are so important as to deserve to be quoted at length:
While some success is claimed in terms of reducing the incidence of young users, the following findings have also been noted:
1) The British approach has failed to attract a majority of addicts;
2) Many registered addicts continue to turn to illicit sources of
3) Many registered addicts do not decrease their dosage over time;
4) Many registered addicts continue to be involved in criminal activity;
5) Many registered addicts are chronically unemployed or do not earn enough to look after themselves;
6) The death rate of registered addicts is much higher than that of the general population and may be higher than that of North American addicts;
7) Since 1960, there has been a dramatic increase in the English addict population;
8) The black market for heroin continues to thrive;
9) Law enforcement appears to remain a necessary, costly and complex control measure.
In view of the above, it is felt that the application of the British approach to British Columbia would present serious dangers.57
B. The Netherlands
Proponents of legalization almost certainly would cite Amsterdam as the drug Mecca of the Western world. Anyone may go into the restaurants in this city and order marijuana and hashish from a menu; further, heroin and cocaine have been decriminalized for all practical purposes. The police simply leave the users alone. Consequently, health officials estimate that Amsterdam has 7,000 addicts, 20% of whom are foreigners.58 These addicts are responsible for 80% of all property crime in the city, thus necessitating that Amsterdam maintain a police presence far greater than those of cities of comparable size in the United States.59
The Dutch have not raised one dollar in tax revenue from drug sales, and drug violators account for 50 percent of the Dutch prison population, a higher proportion than in the United States.60 The Netherlands is the most crime-prone nation in Europe and most drug addicts live on state welfare payments and by committing crimes.61 Nationwide, the number of reported crimes increased to 1.3 million in 1992 from. 812,000 in 1981.62 Faced with public disgust at home over soaring drug related crime and pressure from other European Community countries to strengthen drug laws, Dutch authorities are implementing an aggressive program to reduce drug-linked crimes and disturbances and show new teeth in combatting illegal drug sales.63 Eberhard van der Laan, leader Of the Social Democrats in the Amsterdam City Council says, "People are absolutely fed up with all the troubles caused by drug addicts - car windows broken, noise, whole streets almost given up to the drug problem."64 Legalization advocates claim that marijuana use in Netherlands has not increased since the laws were liberalized, but the number of Amsterdam drug cafes rose from 30 to over 300 in one decade. They also fail to note that daily marijuana use by U.S. youth has declined by 75 percent.65
Much like Amsterdam, Switzerland until recently followed a policy of decriminalization. Indeed, a city park in the town of Zurich for many years was allowed to be a haven for drug users - police simply would ignore the problem by claiming that it was better to have all the addicts in one place rather than having them roam throughout the entire city.66 Unsurprisingly, in February of 1992 Switzerland ended this experiment with decriminalization after experiencing an unacceptable increase in use, violence, crime and health costs and consequences.67 Specifically, the number of addicts residing at the park (called Platzspitz) jumped from a few hundred in 1987 to over 20,000, by early 1992.68 Approximately 20% of these addicts were foreigners who came to Zurich to take advantage of the city's lax drug laws.69 In deciding to close the park, city officials cited the increased incidence of crime and prostitution--as Andres Oehler, a municipal spokesperson stated, "it was felt that the situation had got out of control in every sense."70
Since 1983 in Spain, it has been legal to use, but not sell, cocaine and heroin. Recently, however,
Spanish officials have begun a crack-down on drug pushers due to a dramatic increase in the addiction rate.71 Unsurprisingly, Spain and Italy, which also legalized use of cocaine and heroin, have the highest rates of both drug use and overdose of all European countries.72
Lest we forget the lessons of history, consider that in the late 1800's, opium was legal in China. By 1900, ninety million Chinese were addicted to the drug, and it took fifty years of repressive police measures and rehabilitation to correct the problem.73 Today, opium and other addictive drugs are illegal.74
In the 1950's, Japan was faced with an epidemic of amphetamine use that created half a million addicts. Through socialization and policies aimed at both reducing supply and demand, the number of addicts was decreased to a few thousand within four years.75 A heroin epidemic involving thousands of addicts was dealt with successfully in the 1960's using the same measures. 76
G. Other countries
Throughout recent history, numerous other countries have attempted legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, all meeting with the same harmful results. In Egypt in the 1920's, an unrestricted supply of cocaine and heroin created an epidemic that eventually resulted in the strict prosecution of all addicts.77 In Thailand and Iran, countries that traditionally have had cheap and unrestricted sources of narcotics, the addiction rates have been and continue to be high.78 Finally, the Republic of Singapore had to resort to strict law enforcement and mandatory rehabilitation in order to overcome a heroin epidemic.79
Given the experiences of countries such as Great Britain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, China, Japan, Spain, Egypt, Iran, and Thailand, it is little wonder why countries that traditionally have had lenient drug laws are all moving in the direction of illegalization. Undoubtedly, the danger that drug legalization presents was foremost on the minds of the numerous countries - the United States included - that signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971. And such danger also is why the International Narcotics Control Board for the United Nations concluded in 1992 that "legalization advocates have not yet presented a sufficiently comprehensive, coherent or viable alternative to the present system of international drug abuse control."80
47 John S. Russell and Andre McNicoll, "The British Experience with Narcotic Dependency," Province of British Columbia Ministry of Health, Alcohol, and Drug Commission, April 1978.
48 Robert E. Peterson, "Stop Legalization of Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, July 1988.
49 Peggy Mann, "Reasons to Oppose Legalizing Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, September 1988.
50 Letter from John C. Lawn to Joseph E. DiGenova, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, June 3, 1988, see also Christoph Borkenstein, "A Few Aspects of British Drug Policies - an outside view," Forensic Science International, 1993.
51 Peggy Mann, "Reasons to Oppose Legalizing Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information
Newsletter, September 1988.
52 John S. Russell and Andre McNicoll, "The British Experience with Narcotic Dependency," Province of British Columbia Ministry of Health, Alcohol and Drug Commission, April 1978 (update by D.L. Winterton).
53 Gabriel G. Nahas, "The Decline of Drugged Nations," Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1988.
54 Letter from John C. Lawn to Joseph E. DiGenova, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, June 3, 1988.
56 "Arguments Against Legalizing Drugs," Drug Abuse Update, September 1988.
57 John S. Russell and Andre McNicoll, "The British Experience with Narcotic Dependency," Province of British Columbia Ministry of Health, Alcohol and Drug Commission, April 1978.
58 Ramon Bracomontes, "Marijuana is as easy to buy as ice cream," El Paso Times, July 24, 1988.
60 Robert E. Peterson, "Legalization: The Myth Exposed" in Searching for Alternatives: Drug Control Policy in the United States, Hoover Institution Press, 1991.
62 "Netherlands Soft Policy on Drugs May Harden as Public Complains About Junkie Criminals," Wall Street Journal, March 11, 1994.
65 Robert E. Peterson, "Legalization: The Myth Exposed" in Searching for Alternatives:
Drug Control Policy in the United States, Hoover Institution Press, 1991.
66 Nel Solomon, "Findings on Needle Park: Switzerland's Social Experiment with Legalizing Drugs," Report to Governor Schaefer, Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission (Maryland).
67 Roger Cohen, "Amid Growing Crime, Zurich Closes a Park It Reserved for Drug Addicts," New York Times, February 11, 1992.
71 The Economist, April 18, 1987.
72 Gabriel G. Nahas, "A Battle Won, a Stalemated War, and A New Strategy," (position paper).
73 Gabriel Nahas, "The Decline of Drugged Nations," Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1988.
78 David T. Courtwright, "Should We Legalize Drugs? History Answers," American Heritage, February/March 1993.
79 Gabriel G. Nahas, "A Battle Won, a Stalemated War, and A New Strategy," (position paper), p. 4.
80 "Report of the International Control Board for 1992," International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nations, 1992,
Chapter Three Summary Sheet: The Experience of Foreign Countries and Drug Legalization
If they say...
Experience in Great Britain shows that you can successfully decriminalize heroin so long as it is done in a clinically administered government program.
Then you say...
The addiction rates for heroin in Great Britain increased 100% in ten years, and many of the new addicts were children between the ages of sixteen and seventeen. [Letter from John Lawn to Joseph E. DiGenova, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, June 3, 1988 (citing British medical journal Lancet); Peggy Mann, "Reasons to Oppose Legalizing Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, September 1988.]
Only 20% of the addicts in Great Britain joined the clinical program offered by the government. [John S. Russell and Andre McNicoll, "The British Experience With Narcotic Dependency," Province of British Columbia Ministry of Health, Alcohol and Drug Commission, April 1978].
More addicts left the British program because of criminal convictions than because of rehabilitation. [Letter of John Lawn, citation above (citing statement of the British Medical Journal)] .
Heroin addicts in Britain had mortality rates 26 times higher than that of the average population. [Letter of John Lawn, citation above (citing statement of article published in The New Republic)].
Scotland Yard had to increase its narcotics squad 100% in order to combat the crime caused by the heroin addicts. ["Arguments Against Legalizing Drugs," Drug Abuse Update, September 1988].
If they say...
Experience in Netherlands shows that you can effectively legalize drugs without any problems.
Then you say...
The Amsterdam health officials state that the 7,000 addicts in the city are responsible for 80% of the property crime. (Ramon Bracamontes, "Marijuana is as easy to buy as ice cream," El Paso Times, July 24, 1988].
Because of its drug problem, Amsterdam is required to have a police force much greater than those of U.S. cities of similar population. [Ramon Bracamontes, citation above].
The Netherlands is the most crime-prone nation in Europe and most drug addicts live on state welfare payments and by committing crimes. [Robert E. Peterson, "Legalization: The Myth Exposed" in "Searching for Alternatives: Drug Control Policy in the United States," Hoover Institution Press, 1991].
Amsterdam is rethinking its liberal drug policies because of the social ills that result there from. [Robert E. Peterson, "Stop Legalization of Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, July 1988].
If they say...
The Swiss decriminalized drugs without any adverse consequences.
Then you say...
As of February 1992, Switzerland officially rejected its policy of decriminalization. [Roger Cohen, "Amid Growing Crime, Zurich Closes a Park It Reserved for Drug Addicts," New York Times, February 11, 1992].
Allowing a city park to be used as a "drug legalized" area of Zurich, the number of addicts escalated from a few hundred to over 20,000 within several years. [Roger Cohen, citation above].
Swiss officials now admit that their policy of legalization-decriminalization served to increase crime, especially property crimes and prostitution. [Roger Cohen, citation above].
If they say...
Spain successfully legalized both cocaine and heroin.
Then you say...
Spain, and Italy, the two European countries that legalized use of both cocaine and heroin, have the highest rates of both addiction and overdose in all of Europe. [Gabriel G. Nahas, "A Battle Won, a Stalemated War and A New Strategy," (position paper)].
Spain recently has begun a crack-down on drug pushers in the hopes of decreasing addiction and crime. [Robert E. Peterson, "Stop Legalization, of Illegal Drugs," Drug Awareness Information Newsletter, July 1988].
If they say...
Historically, countries that have legalized or decriminalized drugs have not been harmed.
Then you say...
When opium was legal in China at the turn of the century, there were 90 million addicts, and it took China fifty years to eventually solve the problem. [Gabriel G. Nahas, "The Decline of Drugged Nations," The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1988].
In the 1950's Japan had an epidemic of amphetamine addiction that it solved within four years by both police enforcement and rehabilitation. [Gabriel G. Nahas, citation above].
When Egypt allowed unrestricted trade of cocaine and heroin in the 1920's, an epidemic of addiction resulted. [Gabriel G. Nahas, citation above].
In Iran and Thailand, countries where drugs are readily available, the prevalence of addiction has been and continues to be exceptionally high. [David T. Courtwright, "Should We Legalize Drugs? History Answers," American Heritage, February/March 1993].
If they say...
The international community condones legalized drugs.
Then you say...
Both the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 (both signed by the U.S.) insist that drugs should not be legalized. ["Issues and Comments to respond to Legalization of Illegal Drugs," Drug Enforcement Administration, May 1988].
The International Narcotics Control Board of the United
Nations concluded that "legalization advocates have not yet
presented a sufficiently comprehensive, coherent or viable
alternative to the present system of international drug abuse
control." ["Report of the International Control Board
for 1992," United Nations Publication].
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Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
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Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
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