Politics

Drug Policy Reform 2000
International Roundup

In the year 2000, as the drug policy reform movement continued to gain unprecedented groundmi the United States, other countries around the world continued to lead the way by adopting more humane and realistic policies to address drug use and abuse issues. A worldwide trend toward more sensible drug policies will likely be a staple of the 21st century, as drug policy reform continues to grow and to gain popular support. Following is a roundup of some, but not all, of the recent drug policy reforms proposed or implemented around the world:

AUSTRIA:

Austrian officials continued project Check Ifl, in which teams of chemists and social workers test drugs at raves to assist young people in verifying the type of "club drugs" they are taking, their potency, and whether the drugs contain contaminants. In the program, "ravers" voluntarily bring their drugs to a tent where each tablet or capsule is weighed, photographed, and tested. Within fifteen minutes the results are posted and listed by an anonymous number. Austrian officials believe the project has saved lives and has reduced admissions to hospital emergency rooms. Reportedly, about 50 percent of the persons who have their drugs analyzed take less of the drugs once they know what is in them, and only about seven percent take more.

AUSTRALIA:

In October 2000, Australia's first legal safe-injection room was approved in Sydney's Kings Cross section, offering injection drug users a safe environment to use drugs without fear of prosecution and under the watch of health care officials and counselors. Unfortunately, business groups sued to get an injunction against its opening. The matter is still tied up in court, but several safeinjection rooms are expected to open in Australia this year. Australians continued a national debate on safeinjection rooms, needle exchange programs, heroin maintenance programs, and more liberalized drug policies in general.

BELGIUM:

In January 2001, the Belgian government agreed to legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption. The legislation is expected to be approved by the country's Parliament early this year. Unlike in The Netherlands, Belgium's neighbor, the proposal does not allow for "coffee shops" where marijuana can be bought and consumed. "We are establishing the basis for tolerance in the law, but our country will remain within the lines of international law," the government said in a statement.

CANADA:

In August, the Ontario Court of Appeals declared Canada's marijuana laws unconstitutional because they did not provide exemptions adequate to protect patients using marijuana for medical purposes. The court gave Canada's Parliament one year to rewrite its drug laws to allow patients to obtain and use medical marijuana. Instead of appealing the decision, the Canadian government is developing regulations to allow patients greater access to marijuana. In December 2000, ajudge in Alberta ruled it is unconstitutional not to allow patients safe and reliable access to the drug. The judge gave Parliament one year to amend its laws to allow patients to grow their own marijuana or obtain it from a legal source. The government is appealing the decision.

In October, Vancouver officials began debate on establishing safe-injection rooms and heroin maintenance programs. City officials released a 31point plan in November 2000 to address Vancouver's growing drug problem through a "four-pillar approach," based on the Swiss approach that relies on enforcement, treatment, harm reduction, and prevention. The four-pillar approach includes policies such as more policing, drug courts, and more treatment beds. In the proposal, officials also recommended the city establish safe-injection sites and cautiously consider the establishment of a heroin maintenance program, in which qualified addicts would be prescribed pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

In June, the head of Canada' s largest municipal police force, Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino, came out in favor of decriminalizing the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana as part of a revamped national drug strategy.

FINLAND:

A commission chaired by Finland, s director general of the ministry of educaction recently proposed a harm reduction approach to the problem of youth drug abuse. The commission urged an approach to youth drug use that is realistic, credible, and designed to discuss drugs in ways appropriate to their relative harmfulness and addictive properties. Noting that youth drug experimentation cannot be prevented entirely, the commission warned that Finland's current drug polices could actually encourage a transition from experimentation to abuse by labeling people as problem cases, punishing youth that make mistakes, and inadequately providing youth with accurate information about drugs.

Finland also approved legislation in July 2000 making methadone available at all university hospitals and health centers around the country.

GERMANY:

In February 2000, Germany's Parliament officially legalized local safe-injection rooms. Operating under semi- legal status since 1994, over a dozen city-funded rooms operate in major cities across Germany. The new law clears the way for the establishment of more safe-injection sites, as well as of heroin maintenance programs, which are under consideration by several German cities. IRELAND:

In November, Ireland's minister of state, Eoin Ryan, announced that the government would consider legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The announcement came a few days after Ryan met with his British counterpart, Mo Mowlan, who is preparing to have medical marijuana available in Britain by 2003. Ryan is also reviewing a proposal to allow the establishment of safe-injection rooms.

JAMAICA:

In September, Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson announced the government's decision to establish a broad-based national commission to review whether the use of marijuana should be decriminalized. The commission will consider allowing marijuana for medical purposes, religious purposes, and recreational purposes within one's private premises. The decision to appoint a commission came months after several influential Jamaican religious leaders began openly questioning the prohibition of marijuana and anti-drug policies in general.

MEXICO:

In December, Newly elected Mexican President Vicente Fox announced he wants to change Mexico's drug policy in two significant ways. First, he wants to demilitarize the drug war by making counter-narcotics operations solely a police responsibility, prohibiting the military from getting involved in activities other than national defense. This proposal is designed to reduce the corruption of soldiers by narcotic syndicates by separating them from drug enforcement responsibilities. Second, Fox intends to lobby the U.S. heavily to end its drug certification program, under which the U.S. State Department evaluates other countries' interdiction efforts and applies on countries that are believed not to have a sufficient antidrug strategy. Fox, as well as many other Latin American leaders, has opposed the certification process as interventionist, bullying, and unfair, saying it does not allow for the evaluation of America's failure to curb its own demand for illegal drugs, a demand that is driving the drug trade in Latin America and elsewhere.

Mexico's new foreign minister, Jorge Castafneda, has been openly critical of the war on drugs, calling it a "bloody, costly and futile war" and an "absurd war that no one really wants to wage" in a Newsweek op-ed in 1999. Castaneda favors having a broad debate about drug policy, including the option of legalization.

In May 2000, then-Police Commissioner of Mexico City, Alejandro Gertz Manero, Fox's new secretary of public safety, voiced support for significant drug policy reform. Commissioner Gertz Manero called for a "third path" in anti-drug efforts, one that "has worked for countries like Holland that try to end the economic pressures of drug trafficking and recognize that drug addicts are ill." Gertz Manero called for a policy "to allow the free use of drugs by addicts inside of a therapeutic project, so that those who have irredeemably fallen into this vice do not become instruments of the economic interests of crime."

THE NETHERLANDS:

In June, The Netherlands continued to be the trendsetter in drug policy reform by passing legislation to legalize, regulate, and license the private cultivation of marijuana. Previously, Dutch "coffee shops" were permitted to sell marijuana and hash but growing or distributing marijuana was still illegal. The Dutch Parliament decided to legalize and regulate marijuana cultivation to curb prohibition-related crime and to reduce the illegal import of marijuana.

In September, a governmentcommissioned report released by the Health Inspection Service found that psychedelic mushrooms do not pose any risk to public health and should be made legal. Psychedelic mushrooms had been sold openly in stores specializing in natural stimulants for years in The Netherlands,buttheywerebanned in 1999 out of fear they might be dangerous. After studying the the issue, the Health Inspection Service announced it believes that they are harmless and that "there is no legal need to ban mushrooms."

NEW ZEALAND:

In July, New Zealand legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp on a trial basis. "Industrial hemp trials can be conducted under existing legislation, but it would still need government approval for the product to be grown commercially," said New Zealand Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle. "If the trials are successful, we envisage removing hemp from the Misuse of Drugs Act and regulating it under the Customs and Excise. Act."

PORTUGAL:

In July, Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs. Under the new law, drug users will no longer face prison terms for the possession or use of an illegal drug. Instead, police will treat addicts as persons with illnesses and report them to local authorities to ensure they have access to treatment.

SOUTH AFRICA:

South Africa granted its Eastern Cape province a special license to grow industrial hemp. "Hemp is ideal for the Eastern Cape, given the levels of poverty there and the level of subsistence agriculture," Said Max Mamase, the province's agriculture minister.

SWITZERLAND:

In October, the Swiss Cabinet approved changes to the country's drug laws to legalize the consumption of marijuana. The Swiss Cabinet will submit its recommendations to the Parliament where the measure is expected to pass. (In March 2000, both houses of Parliament approved resolutions calling for the decriminalization of marijuana.) The Cabinet's decision follows a recent report by the Federal Commission on Narcotics Issues, an independent panel that advises the government, which recommended legalizing the possession, sale, and consumption of small amounts of marijuana within a regulatory framework.

UNITED KINGDOM:

C a b i n e Minister 0 Mowlam continued to advocate the Labor government's plan to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes by the year 2003. Britain's Medicines Control Agency gave approval to GW Pharmaceuticals to begin human medical marijuana trials, the first step in allowing patients legal access to medicinal marijuana.

URUGUAY:

In January 2001, Uruguay's recently elected president, Jorge Batlle, repeatedly spoke out in favor of legalizing drugs and called on other Latin American leaders to join him in opposing U.S.-imposed drug policy. Most recently, while attending Mexican President Vicente Fox's inaugural, Batlle compared drug prohibition to America's failed attempt at alcohol prohibition, adding "the day that it is legalized in the United States, it will lose value. And if it loses value, there will be no profit. But as long as the U.S. citizenry doesn't rise up to do something, theywill pass this life fighting and fighting." BatIle is calling for a summit devoted to the topic of the drug trade and drug policy reform.

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