In 1961, the UN signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, ushering in an era of aggressive enforcement of drug-related crimes around the globe; the war on drugs. For over five decades now, governments and law enforcement agencies have been fighting drug production, use and possession at the staggering estimated cost of $100 billion annually.
The result? Not even the slightest bit of success. In fact, according to this graph in the 2015 World Drug Report by the UNODC, drug use has risen by nearly 20% between 2006 and 2013. It's clear the old methods aren't working.
This is nothing new, of course. We've reported before how this war has failed. But now, the recently released second edition of ‘A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Across the Globe’ supports our view with studies and cold hard facts.
Case study per country
The full report lists the decriminalisation systems used by various countries around the globe. It's an interesting read and it paints a picture of the slow but sure realisation that legalising the personal use of drugs does not in fact cause more harm than strictly prohibiting drug use. That's where the term 'quiet revolution' stems from.
Dutch drug policy
We were of course quite curious what the report had to say about our neck of the woods. The Netherlands has long had a reputation for tolerant drug policies, but let us assure you that's not the feeling the average drug-minded Dutchman has lately.
In 1976, Dutch laws created a subdivision of drugs (hard drugs and soft drugs) in order to separate the cannabis market from the more harmful drugs. A few interesting quotes:
"One study demonstrated that the removal of prohibitions on cannabis has not led to an explosion of drug use and that particular policies do not have much of an impact on rates of drug use."
"Another concluded that there is no evidence that the decriminalisation component of the 1976 policy increased levels of cannabis use."
"Between 1979 and 1994, the prevalence of ‘hard-drug’ use in the Netherlands decreased from 15 per cent to 2.5 per cent, indicating no compelling correlation between decriminalisation and increased prevalence of drug use."
The report goes on to mention the shifting climate in recent years, with initiatives such as the weed pass, summing up our gut feeling about changing times with the following:
"The current debate in the Netherlands is about whether or not to regulate cultivation and supply of cannabis to coffee shops. the problems are rooted in the paradox that at the front door, the sale and possession of small quantities are not prosecuted, while at the back door supply (cultivation and trade) is still fully criminalised."
With countries such as the US taking great steps towards decriminalisation state by state, it's weird to feel like the Netherlands are going backwards. As always, we'll keep you updated on new developments.
The core of the report is this: decriminalisation has not been the disaster many predicted and continue to predict. Countries with some of the harshest criminalisation systems have some of the highest prevalence rates of drug use in the world, and countries with decriminalisation systems have some of the lowest prevalence rates.
It's time to learn this lesson and adopt a new global policy.