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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Legislative Options for Cannabis - Australian Government

Chapter 4.


Conclusion - the total prohibition options

The Netherlands has been successful in terms of the goals identified by Dutch policy makers. Their policy has not resulted in the increased use of cannabis; indeed levels of cannabis use are markedly lower than those seen in the United States or Australia. There is little violence associated with the cannabis distribution system, cannabis users do not seem to progress to using more serious drugs and the drug is consumed in a manner whereby the risks of harm are minimised.

Dutch policy is also relatively successful in terms of many of the policy goals that we discussed above. The separation of cannabis from other drugs ensures that The Netherlands has a more manageable drug policy. The goals of policy are realistic and policy makers have not confused moral arguments with arguments about the consequences of drug use.

In contrast, the US drug strategy with respect to cannabis does not seem to be particularly successful. Despite considerable economic and social costs, cannabis use is far from being eradicated in the USA. Cannabis users may be consuming the drug in a particularly dangerous manner, the illicit drugs distribution system (of which cannabis is a part) is associated with violence, and law enforcement, criminal justice processing and the imprisonment of cannabis-related offenders costs American tax payers millions of dollars every year.

The USA has not emerged favourably in relation to the goals identified in the first part of this report. Apparently American policy makers have not recognised the need to consider different policy strategies for different drugs, leaving cannabis part of the larger, seemingly unsolvable 'drug problem'. Moral arguments have been confused with arguments about the consequences of drug use, and this has led to the development of unrealistic policy goals and a failure to recognise that the control regime imposed to deal with the problem of cannabis use may be causing more harm than the cannabis use itself. Examples from the USA and The Netherlands demonstrate that the legislative option of total prohibition can be implemented in very different ways. The two countries have very different philosophical and pragmatic rationales for their policies and, unsurprisingly, the outcomes of the policies have varied considerably.

In developing policy, international examples are of benefit to Australian policy makers. It should be remembered, however, that the relative success or failure of drug policies depend as much on cultural factors, existing patterns of drug use, and public views of drug use, as they do on the soundness of the policy.

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