Cannabis Home Grown med


Politicians warned that decriminalisation of cannabis would ‘send the wrong message’. Some researchers supported this argument by stating that removing criminal penalties would lead to increased use. Harms would fall hardest on deprived communities, already damaged by drug-related problems. Most public arguments, however, are based on speculation rather than available evidence on effects. The predominance of speculation over evidence can be attributed to a number of factors.

United Nations (UN) conventions on illicit drugs require nation states to prohibit illicit drug cultivation, manufacturing, sale and possession. There is however, some ‘room to manoeuvre’, as shown by various forms of decriminalisation and depenalisation employed in the United States (US), Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands. A second limit to use of evidence in debates over drug regulation is the limited and variable evidence surrounding impacts of existing forms of liberalisation.

Where reforms have been studied, different methods and approaches have been used. To date, the major focus of analysis has been whether decriminalisation leads to increase in use. Most studies have found no significant increase in use. Others have found a slight increase. Still others have shown how difficult it is to make any certain judgement on effects of decriminalisation on use, given the absence of adequate comparators. 

One of the best studied reforms has been the South Australian cannabis expiation notice scheme, introduced in 1987. Evaluators found decriminalisation led to increased employment prospects and increased trust of police. Yet it also led to net-widening, as more people received formal contact with the criminal justice system. There was an overall increase in the burden on the criminal justice system with a 280% increase in expiable cannabis offences.

The most comprehensive synthetic review on impacts of decriminalisation of illicit drugs was conducted using data from the Netherlands, US, Australia and Italy. They concluded that removal of criminal penalties appeared to produce positive but slight impacts, primarily reducing the burden and cost to the criminal justice system and reducing the intrusiveness of criminal justice responses to users. 

The removal of criminal penalties alone had little or no impact on the prevalence of use or drug-related health harms. The extent of additional use depended on the extent to which there was commercial promotion. They used the example of the Netherlands, where the rise in cannabis use did not immediately follow its depenalisation, but coincided with development of coffee shops that openly promoted their illicit wares.

Original source: What Can We Learn From The Portuguese Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs?

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