Amsterdam Pioneers a Sane Drug Policy
December 4th, 2014
Policy, Top News
The Netherlands installed new signage after several people died from heroin masked as cocaine appeared in the black market. While the warning isn’t all that unusual, the signage also contained striking language saying that “you will not be arrested for using drugs in Amsterdam”. The language is instead focused on providing information regarding how to seek medical attention.
In the U.S., the threat of harsh sentencing – particularly for hard drugs like heroin – keeps many drug users from seeking medical assistance after an overdose. The Netherlands has taken a different approach by treating drug users as people engaging in unhealthy behaviors rather than criminals. Despite this approach, only 5% of Netherlands citizens have used cocaine compared to 14% in the U.S.
The decriminalization of marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington State has led to concerns among many politicians – particularly in the GOP – that use of the drug would rise among vulnerable populations like teens. Ironically, the actual usage patterns seem to go against conventional wisdom, with usage rates declining when the drug has been legalized or decriminalized.
For instance, the latest report from the U.S. government detailing marijuana use by Colorado high school students found that usage rates had dropped from 24.8% to 22% since the state began regulating marijuana. These figures buck the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use over the past several years, where marijuana usage has risen from 20.8% to 23.1% between 2009 and 2011.
The theory is that legalizing drugs reduces the black market availability of those drugs, which leaves only the legal alternatives for drug users. Since legal businesses are easier to regulate than black market businesses, these dynamics lead to more enforceable age limits, safer forms of drugs, and tax revenue that can help fund prevention and support efforts targeting drug users.
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