Decriminalizing Recreational Drug Use and Treating It as a Medical Problem

It is important to note that decriminalization does not mean legalization. These words are too distinct in their own contexts. Looking at the example of Portugal, decriminalization of drug use initiative was launched in 2001. However, this step does not mean that drugs are legal in Portugal (Laqueur 750). Portuguese laws prohibit Trafficking, distribution, and selling of controlled substances. Cases involving substance abuse and severe addiction are handled as a public health concern and not a criminal offense. The matter is then directed to psychologists, counselors and social workers for professional handling. This is opposed to traditional handling of the issue where police and prison wardens were involved. There are some selective instances where some substances are made fully legal, like the case of Marijuana.  The decriminalization of drugs does not mean that anyone can just abuse the substance in public and sell to anyone from any place without the risk of prosecution. It just simplifies the manner in which the society deals with this calamity of addiction from a public health and legal perspective. 

In the United States, the issue of decriminalization is often used as a tool to advance some political interests where some advocates try and aim to achieve full legalization of substance abuse. Criminalization of substance abuse is not solely a punitive mechanism; in fact, it is a major hindrance towards fighting addiction (Clark, Claire and Dufton, 285). Some addicted individuals who are highly in need of specialized treatment will shy away from seeking help for fear of victimization.  Data shows that more than one-third of treatment referrals are drawn from the criminal justice system. The legalization of drugs calls for a flashback as it was in the pre 20th Century where law did not prohibit almost all drugs. Some think tanks propose full legalizations of controlled substances which will see governments and authorities lose control over hard drugs. This paper aims at analyzing various views from different stakeholders namely, public health experts, legal practitioners and the community in general. 

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Public health view

According to Royal Society for Public Health, the intensive fights against drug abuse have caused more harm than benefits to the society. The faculty For Public Health is also sharing this opinion. They opine that the drug abuse should not be handled in courts rooms and prison cells. They argue that the two institutions have failed to deter people from using these substances. According to these public health bodies, more people are being harmed by these dangerous drugs and later being subjected to nerve wrecking court proceedings which result into severe punishments in prisons. They want the victims to be helped to kick out this addiction. Public health specialists who are tasked with helping people fight addictions and prescribe medication for affected people urge authorities to deal with the sellers and manufacturers of these substances.  In Australia, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre argues that decriminalization of substance use does not only save the public funds but also has numerous and sound health benefits.   

In the USA public health experts argue that criminalization of drugs lead to unequal arrests which later subject victims into torturous experiences. They say that those subjected to judicial processes and convicted find it had to secure jobs upon release and some are even denied to get insurance health covers. According to their research study, the use of Marijuana mostly affects teenagers and in impairing their performance school (Palfai 42). They urge the authorities to embark on an intensive civil education to alert the youths on drug effects. In light of the above scenarios, it can be resolved that drug prohibition has far reaching effects, and relevant authorities should engage public health bodies to solve the menace. 

The legal view

The decriminalization of drugs should be imposed to allow for other control measures as opposed to current laws. Some legal practitioners advocates for fines or other reasonable forms of punishments to help fight help problems which are associated with substance abuse. Legal thinkers just like their public health experts counterparts suggest for heavy punishments of drug producers and supply barons. According to them, this will go a long way in reducing the rampant cases of substance abuse downstream. If this measure is taken then cases of prison overcrowding will be a thing of the past. Studies from various agencies have also shown that the use of some legalized drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes have caused much health risk complications than some outlawed drugs (Laqueur 772). Some ingredients contained in Marijuana have proved to be of much health benefits hence increasing the need for decriminalization. 

The society view

Police forces in Portugal nowadays do no arrest those caught with controlled substances. They instead order them to appear before a panel which consists of counselors, psychologists, and legal experts. The majority of the reported cases are mostly suspended but individuals who appear before the panels repeatedly are treated as a special case, and medicated treatment is prescribed. The treatment ranges from specialized medication to some encouraging counseling and a series of therapies. Cases of HIV infections in Portugal have reduced drastically since the inception of this policy. Overdose deaths are reported to have reduced significantly over the last decade.  When this practice was commenced, many people expected the drug abuse menace in Portugal to escalate. The Portuguese authorities argue that they are good examples to other communities who wish to follow and ratify what they have done (Laqueur 54). 

The problem in the society is that fear of jail terms scare away the drug barons making them seek refuge underworld while still perpetuating their illegal acts. Addicts are also more likely to go into hiding to escape the wrath of the authorities. Cartels will always find their way to those hideouts and continue supplying the drugs.  Religious entities which are conservatives are however opposed to drug decriminalization claiming that the initiative will lead to a drug abuse runway in the society. The Catholic Church is the one on the forefront of opposing the drug liberations campaign for health concerns. Many governments around the world are grappling to achieve a drug-free society. The following rationales have been proposed to attain this;

  1. Mandatory labels on drugs and clear warning messages
  2. Strict advertising guidelines
  3. Limitations of age
  4. Clear guidelines on some supply of certain drugs 
  5. Total ban on sales to affected persons
  6. Clinical supervision on consumption of hard drugs
  7. Provision of user licenses to purchase selected drugs

The regulation on the legalization of some drugs will depend on the observed risks associated with usage of those drugs. These regulations will determine which kinds of drugs will be sold over the counter of pharmacies or other licensed enterprises. This is to encourage and ease the monitoring mechanisms so as to provide a timely response in case of an emergency to provide a medical care. The example of drugs which the authorities regulate, their production, supply, and use are caffeine (tea and coffee), ethyl alcohol (spirits, wine, beer) and Nicotine which is mainly tobacco (Laqueur 24).

Total legalization is mostly proposed by libertarians who are anti-drug laws because of moral issues. It has been observed that not all drug liberation proponents share the same beliefs on the subject. Different people adopt their beliefs and ethical framework differently. Having a soft spot for drug liberations does not reflect approval for drug abuse. It has been observed that there are some social and economic implications on the application of decimalizing drugs for health benefits. Drug prohibition increases crime which includes violence, theft, and corruption. Drug prices have been observed to skyrocket when the prohibition is put in place. It is approximated that over 10,000 deaths occur annually in the United States because of the decriminalization of drugs. This is because of violence and police shoot downs while pursuing drug abuse perpetrators. The data released in 2013 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and European crime-fighting agency Europol indicate that the annual worth of drug trade stands at around $ 435 billion with Cocaine alone recording the figures of approximately $ 84 billion (Félix, Sónia, and Portugal 124). 

In conclusion, both advantages and disadvantages of drug decriminalization should be considered while deciding what should be done and what is good for the world.  It can never be denied that substance abuse has inflicted some families with agonizing pain and suffering. Many youths are still in jail while others are fighting for their lives in hospitals due to severe effects of substance abuse. Governments around the world and relevant international bodies should come together to establish a permanent solution to this stalemate. Countries which have achieved this objective such as Portugal and Australia should act as a benchmark for other countries. Authorities still need to invest heavily in rehabilitation centers to help those who are in addiction stage. Educational regulators need to draft informative and comprehensive curriculum on the effects of substance abuse. This should target young adults in junior schools. Decriminalization of drug use for health benefits is what the world needs to save the future generations. As it has been discussed earlier, drug policies should be flexed to reflect health issues.  In this light, it is evident that the world is ready for the decriminalization of drug for health and medical benefits. The most notable effect of decriminalization of drugs is that the state saves a significant amount of money through the justice and correctional systems. This has been scientifically proven because it is so much easy to track the trends. Rampant arrests of drug users reduce as a state cut its spending on enforcing criminalization. Many Americans have expressed their opinions stating that the government spends a lot of money in enforcing anti substance laws (Wang 684-689). 

Works Cited

Clark, Claire D., and Emily Dufton. “Peter Bourne’s Drug Policy and the Perils of a Public Health Ethic, 1976–1978.” American journal of public health 105.2 (2015): 283-292.

Félix, Sónia, and Pedro Portugal. “Drug decriminalization and the price of illicit drugs.”                

            International Journal of Drug Policy 39 (2017): 121-129.

Laqueur. Hannah. “Uses and abuses of drug decriminalization in Portugal.” Law & Social Inquiry 40.3 (2015): 746-781.

Palfai, Tibor P., Kelli D. Tahaney, and Michael R. Winter. “Is Marijuana Use Associated With Health Promotion Behaviors Among College Students? Health-Promoting and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students Identified Through Screening in a University Student Health Services Center.” Journal of Drug Issues 46.1 (2016): 41-50.

Wang, George S., et al. “Association of unintentional pediatric exposures with decriminalization                                         of marijuana in the United States.” Annals of emergency medicine 63.6 (2014): 684-689.

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