How the world deals (or doesn't) with drugs

Free to use in Uruguay or Canada, possession of marijuana can be punished with death penalty in the Philippines or Saudi Arabia. The world looks at drugs in different ways and with different results.

Jun 20, 2023 - 19:48
How the world deals (or doesn't) with drugs
Image by Лечение наркомании / Pixabay

As with attitudes toward sex, countries' policies on drugs can vary significantly based on cultural, social, and political factors. There are some countries that have been historically considered more liberal or more repressive about drugs. In the present days, and in few words, this is the situation of the word facing drugs:

Most Liberal Countries about Drugs:

  • Uruguay: In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. The country views drug use as a public health issue and has a harm reduction-oriented approach.
  • Netherlands: The Netherlands is famous for its tolerant drug policy, particularly regarding cannabis. While not fully legal, the sale and possession of small quantities of marijuana in licensed "coffeeshops" are tolerated under specific regulations.
  • Canada: Canada took a significant step towards drug liberalization by legalizing recreational marijuana in 2018. The country has a relatively progressive approach to drug use, emphasizing harm reduction and treatment over punitive measures.
  • Portugal: Portugal is often cited as a leading example of a country with a liberal end effective drug policy. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and others. Instead of facing criminal charges, individuals caught with small quantities of drugs are typically referred to counseling and treatment programs.
  • Switzerland: Switzerland has adopted a harm reduction approach to drug use. It provides supervised injection facilities and opioid substitution therapy for addicts and has decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Most Repressive Countries about Drugs:

  • Philippines: The Philippines has been known for its brutal "war on drugs" campaign, initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte. The campaign has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users and traffickers, sparking international criticism.
  • Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has a very strict policy on drugs, and drug trafficking is a serious offense punishable by death. Possession and use of drugs can also lead to severe penalties.
  • Singapore: Singapore has some of the toughest drug laws globally, including mandatory death sentences for certain drug trafficking offenses. Even possession of small amounts of drugs can result in severe punishment.
  • Malaysia: Malaysia has harsh drug laws, and drug trafficking is punishable by death. Possession of even small quantities of illegal drugs can lead to lengthy prison sentences and heavy fines.
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE): The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs. Drug offenses, even for small quantities, can lead to significant prison sentences and fines.

Nicole Dupond Member of EA Coordination Team