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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20

Public Policies in Other Countries

As just seen, the international conventions provide the framework for the criminal policy approaches the signatory states may adopt. We have also seen that interpretations vary as to the nature of the obligations they create, specifically with regard to use, and thus possession, for personal purposes. Some interpretations go so far as to suggest that, with regard to cannabis, certain forms of regulation of production could be possible, without violating the provisions of the conventions, as long as the State took the necessary steps to penalize illegal trafficking.

The vast majority of Canadians have heard about the "war on drugs" which the USA is conducting and about its prohibitionist approach, but many would be surprised to see the major variations between states, indeed between cities, within that country. Even fewer know that Sweden enforces a prohibitionist policy at least as strict as that of the US, but through other means. Many of us have, in one way or another, heard about the "liberal" approach introduced in the Netherlands in 1976. Fewer people know of the Spanish, Italian, Luxembourg or Swiss approaches, which are even more liberal in certain respects. More recently, Canadians learned of the decision by the UK's Minister of the Interior to reclassify cannabis as a Class C drugs, but it is not clear that we know precisely what that means. In view of the preconceptions that many may have in relation to France with regard to wine, many may be surprised to learn that its policy on cannabis appears more "conservative" than that of neighbouring Belgium, for example.

As may be seen, once the overall framework of the puzzle has been established by the international community, ways of putting the pieces together vary widely between states, and at times among the regions of a single state. That is why, in order to learn about the experience and approaches of other countries, the Committee commissioned a number of research reports on the situations in other countries[1][1] and heard representatives of some of those countries in person.[2][2]

We of course had to make some choices, limiting ourselves to the western countries of the northern hemisphere. This is a weak point, we agree, but our resources were limited. In addition, as we wanted to compare public policies with data on use trends and judicial practices, we were forced to choose countries with an information base. In our hearings of representatives of those countries, we were mainly limited by time.

In this chapter, we describe the situations in five European countries France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland and in Australia and the United States.



[1][1]  Those reports, prepared by the Parliamentary Research Branch staff, concern Australia, the United States, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland. Exact references appear in Appendix B.

[2][2]  We heard representatives of the United States, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

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