Drug Laws Around The World

Posted by Sara Niemiec on Jul 19, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Federal drug policy in the United States has long favored the punitive approach to drug laws. In fact, nearly half (47%) of sentenced federal prisoners in 2016 were serving time for a drug offense. The United States current approach to drug laws can be traced back to Nixon’s war on drugs campaigning in the 1970’s, but one could argue that it extends even further back to the Puritanical roots of our forefathers. However, we can see a change in attitudes surrounding decriminalization in states such as Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and others leading the charge to make recreational and medicinal cannabis legal. Today we’ll take a look at some different laws around the world in the top abusing countries surrounding recreational and medicinal uses of drugs. First, we’ll take a brief look at why our current system favors the punitive approach.


A gavel-More cases are going to court regarding drug use as laws regarding drug enforcement are always changing.

The American Approach

Nixon is infamous for enacting and pushing the “War on Drugs” approach that has been the basis for much of the United States drug policies. In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which established the framework through which the government regulates the production, possession, and distribution of all controlled substances. It also established the framework for levels of narcotics according to five levels known as “schedules.” These schedules delineated which substances were appropriate for medical use and which were too harmful to be allowed anywhere.


In July of 1973, Nixon authorized the creation of the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA was intended to be the single focal point for coordinating federal drug enforcement efforts between the State, local authorities, and foreign police forces. All aspects of regulatory compliance, as well as criminal provisions for unlawful drug possession, would be administered through the DEA.


The 1980's witnessed a rising popularity of the drug cocaine and its cheaper cousin, “crack,” leading to a renewed public panic and concern over American drug consumption. Following attempts by Jimmy Carter to roll back mandatory sentencing for drug possession and decriminalization of marijuana, Reagan took a strong approach to drug enforcement that would wind up incarcerating hundreds of thousands of Americans. Between 1980 and 1986, federal drug convictions more than doubled, primarily for trafficking, importation, and distribution, with about less than 20% relating to possession.


In 1984, Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, enhancing penalties for drug enforcement violations, and introducing criminal forfeiture provisions for specific offenses, allowing the government to seize forfeited property and use for state, local and federal enforcement of federal drug laws. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established more criminal penalties for possession, including the now infamous crack vs. cocaine distinction that required 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same penalties. With crack being an epidemic in more impoverished communities, this law unfairly imprisoned more low-income citizens. These drug enforcement laws have influenced mainly federal sentencing for drug charges, and today nearly 50% of the federal inmate population has been sentenced for drug-related offenses. In today's society, many states have different drug laws so it is important to stay up to date with new laws. To learn about Oklahoma drug laws, and other laws throughout the United States, keep up with local news and law updates.


South America



Although Ecuador has never been a significant center for the manufacturing and distribution of illicit drugs, it does have some of the harshest and severe drug laws in the world. Ecuador drug laws do not distinguish between small scale and large scale offenses, so even first time offenders could potentially serve up to 12 years prison sentence. In 2008, the country had the most number of inmates of any other South American nation.



Uruguay was the first country in the world to decriminalize the possession and consumption of marijuana for recreational use. The state controls the entire cannabis industry, from production and distribution to taxation and more. State law also permits the use of any recreational substance and does not criminalize possession within a certain limit. You still can’t manufacture or sell drugs, but you are free to consume them. People over 18 are also allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants in their residence.



Violence and crime rates in Mexico related to drug trafficking are some of the highest in the world. Currently, no drugs are legal in Mexico, but politicians have included talks of cannabis legalization in campaign speeches. Sentences are harsh for the production, transportation, trafficking and sale of drugs. Personal drug consumption within small limits, however, is not illegal. These quantities are relatively low, and drug consumption is completely fine as long as it is not within specific locations (schools, prisons, etc…).




Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, drug laws have made it a popular destination for tourists. Psychoactive substances are legal up to certain limits, meaning you can legally possess up to 15 grams of marijuana, five tabs of LSD, 1.5 grams of heroin, 1 gram of cocaine, and 2 grams of methamphetamine. Because of their liberal policies towards drugs, the Czech Republic also has many outpatient, residential treatment, street work, safe injection programs available to reduce harm and help those suffering from addiction.



Switzerland’s current drug laws have been in place since 1991 and are based on a four-pronged approach comprising prevention, therapy, damage limitation, and repression. The country is known for being one of the first to implement heroin-assisted treatment, similar to methadone, and for opening safe injection sites to allow addicts to administer drugs while getting access to addiction treatment resources safely. Since starting in 1991, the country has seen a steady decline in the number of deaths related to drug overdose and infections across the nation. It’s difficult to measure the exact cost-effectiveness of Switzerland's approach, but when surveying the population, public opinion has been mostly favorable. In the 1990’s, more than three-quarters of the population identified drug use as one of the five major problems facing the nation. In 2007, that figure had fallen to roughly 12%.



In Croatia, possession of small quantities of drugs for personal consumption is not punishable under law but is still classified as a misdemeanor. Sentencing and determination are left up to local courts. The bill also distinguishes between hard drugs and light drugs. In 2015, the Croatian Ministry of health legalized the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.



Portugal is noted for being one of the more liberal countries when it comes to narcotics. The nation decriminalized possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in 2001. Instead of punishing, the nation refers offenders to treatment programs and educational centers to help them end their addiction. Drug use within the country has stayed at the same levels, but there’s been a significant fall in the amount of HIV cases amongst drug users as well as a decline in overdoses.


The Netherlands

Amsterdam is well known for being tolerant when it comes to narcotics. Amsterdam is an international tourist destination for its red light district and “coffee shops” where tourists can purchase cannabis products. Residents are legally allowed to grow their cannabis plants for personal use, but trafficking and production over a specific scale are illegal, as are importing and exporting drugs.



In Southeast Asia, the trafficking and production of drugs are highly illegal, but also incredibly profitable. The golden triangle is noted for being one of the world largest manufacturers and distributors of opiate drugs, but many surrounding countries have enacted harsh criminal penalties for possession and trafficking, including hefty fines, lengthy prison sentences, and even the death penalty.



Singapore has some of the strictest drug laws in the world. The Misuse of Drugs Act punishes the possession of minuscule quantities of illegal drugs with fines and jail time and punishes large amounts with death. While the laws are harsh, overall drug use and trafficking are meager. For example, 0.005% of the population uses cannabis, 0.003% use ecstasy, and 0.005% use opiates. Carrying any more than a couple of grams of some substances can land you up to $20,000 in fines and jail time. Singapore authorities also have the power to drag suspects into custody for drug testing at any time. However, it should be noted that the statistics for Singapore come straight from the government, and remain unverified by any outside agencies.



Indonesia is another country that has some of the strictest laws in the world. Possession and trafficking of all types of substances are illegal, but depending on the quantities, carries different levels of severity, including the death penalty. Indonesia is one of the largest drug markets in Asia, and so lawmakers and authorities have argued for even stricter enforcement. International law does not sanction the death penalty for drug trafficking, but that hasn’t stopped Indonesia from utilizing firing squads, or the president saying that people should “chase them, bear them, hit them, if the law permits, shoot them.”



President Rodrigo Duterte initiated the Philippine Drug War in 2016. Under this administration, drug law enforcement has been entirely punitive. Citizens and law enforcement authorities have been encouraged to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts on sight, which has lead to a large number of extrajudicial killings and international condemnation. Human rights organizations estimate anywhere between 4,000 and 12,000 deaths as of 2018. The results of this approach are difficult to measure because of the danger and degree of government protectionism surrounding data. While drug use may have gone down, the number of deaths related to drugs have undoubtedly increased at least tenfold. As an extension to this policy, Duterte has added loiterers and street dwellers to his list of criminals. Instead of shooting these people, however, police merely lock them up. Many include children, the sickly, and elderly.



Like other Asian countries, Japan has some strict laws surrounding drug possession, consumption, and trafficking. The culture in Japan generally looks down upon the use of psychoactive substances, but the punitive measures reflect an even greater aversion. Drug offenders can face up to five years in prison for their first offense, which can happen in even small quantities. People who are caught with drugs have no protection from being fired from their jobs, expelled from school, or ejected from a sports league. Economists have also named Japan as one of the priciest places to buy drugs, likely owing to the harsh penalties in place. Japan is known for conducting thorough background checks on people wishing to enter or reside in their country, and having even minor drug offenses on your record can keep you from being allowed to come, as Paul McCartney found out.


Middle East


United Arab Emirates

Possession of even a small amount of illicit substances can result in a four-year prison sentence in the UAE, even if that amount is found in your bloodstream. The UAE carries the death penalty for major trafficking offenses. People traveling to the UAE need to be careful when transporting prescription medication, because some substances in over the counter medications are illegal, such as codeine.


Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, punishments for drug possession and trafficking can be extremely harsh. Punishments include flogging, beating, imprisonment, and execution. Sentencing is left entirely up to local judges, but the minimum penalty under Saudi Law for is two years for citizens caught using, and immediate deportation for outsiders. These sentences can also include lashes and additional fines. Smuggling any quantity or narcotic is the instant death penalty, while dealers may only receive the death penalty for repeat offenses. Students under 20 years of age are excluded from these penalties, including students from other countries.



Iran has one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world. Part of this reason is that neighbors Afghanistan, where more than 90% of the world's opium comes from. Iran is the most prominent trafficking route for drugs out of this region. Estimates place roughly 3 million Iranians to be addicted to hard drugs, or a little over 3% of the population. In recent years, methamphetamine has become a growing problem for the country. Iran is second only to China in the number of prisoners executed in past years, and more than 50% were for drug-related offenses.


In Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this look at some drug laws around the world. At Landmark Recovery, we prepare all of our guests with the knowledge they need to live a successful sober life post-discharge. There’s no better time than now to get help for addiction and start living the life you dreamed. Visit our website to learn more about our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers.



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