Latest Debates on the Legal Status of Drugs

The legislative changes occurred in recent years on the status of currently illegal drugs have shaped a situation those persisting in using worthless, outdated arguments (control vs. responsibility for some, freedom vs. efficiency for the others) seldom acknowledge. 

By Domingo Comas Arnau

Even though these changes appear to be isolated and irrelevant, they are now so persistent that they reflect something more than a simple trend. It is a new situation that one should fully characterize in order to stop arguing on ideological abstractions. 

Legal status of cannabis for medical purposes worldwide
This phenomenon is not global, that’s true. However, it is occurring in nearly all industrialized nations, i.e. in most of Europe, the Anglo-Saxon countries (from Canada and the USA to Australia and New Zealand), and even more significantly, in Latin America. Not to mention Japan, with a few slight variations. In all of these countries, there is an emerging view that illicit drugs should be regulated for administrative, social and healthcare purposes.  This view is a consequence of the risk and harm reduction policies in addition to social mobilizations in favor of a regulated use of marijuana under specific  restrictions.

The author, Domingo Comas Arnau, has a doctorate in political science and sociology and graduate in anthropology. Professor at the National Distance Education University (UNED – Spain) and researcher, he has also authored many publications in  the field of addiction treatment, residential treatment, youth, social exclusion and research methodologies. He fulfilled various management functions for public administration services, including as a supervisor of intervention programs for people facing extreme difficulties. Domingo Comas Arnau is President of the Atenea Foundation.

This process affects both legal and illegal drugs, because if we look at this scenario closely, we realize it involves not only countries which have been particularly active in fighting the tobacco epidemic, but also countries enforcing rigidly the regulations to restrict tobacco use. It affects not only countries with severe alcohol regulation policies, but also those with advanced drug regulation policies. The clearest example of  regulatory convergence is Canada and an increasing number of countries are following its example.

Does regulation and legalization imply or mean the same thing? Definitely not. Legalization implies a system that allows the use and sale of drugs with no control whatsoever, just like what was taking place in olden days with tobacco and alcohol. Regulation, this is what most industrialized countries do with tobacco – some of which can boast of a visible success in the fight against the tobacco epidemic – in practically the same fashion they could also be able to regulate the use and sale of marijuana. In some places, the legal convergence is so tenuous that it is virtually the same thing.

Does regulation implies to control? With no doubt. However it also implies that drugs abandon the niche of penal control and be subject to other, more effective and less expensive measures, economically and humanly.

Could we imagine a general, regulation system? Broadly, yes. Although for some, specific substances, including cocaine and “party pills”, it wouldn’t be easy.

Domingo Comas Arnau

This month, Dianova takes a closer look at the debate on marijuana legalization or regulation, inthe light of the decisions taken by several governments where our member organizations operate. With the help of experts' well-informed opinions, such as Domingo Comas Arnau or Kevin Sabet, we hope to be able to foster a fair and balanced debate and advance understanding on this critical issue. 

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