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What countries have legalised drugs?

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Portugal has led the way in decriminalising the possession of small quantities of any drug since 2001, in a radical experiment that has become the test case for many countries looking to reform their drug laws.

Across Europe, 14 countries have brought in various decriminalisation models for the medical or recreational sale of cannabis.

In December 2013, Uruguay became the first nation to make it legal to grow, consume and sell cannabis. That said, all sales must pass through a government-run marketplace.

Twenty-three US states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana for medical purposes and Washington became the first to permit the recreational use of the plant in 2012, despite a federal ban. Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have since followed suit. Cannabis went on sale in Washington in July 2014.

Canada has also joined the marijuana gold rush this summer, becoming the first G7 country to fully legalise cannabis after lawmakers passed a bill allowing the growing, selling and consumption of cannabis for medical and recreational use.

By comparison, the UK “has become increasingly isolated in its approach to drugs policy”, says Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform.

“We are unique among modern democracies in maintaining an approach based on nothing but prohibition. In fact, we now stand closer to countries such as Russia, China, Indonesia and Singapore. The only thing that separates us from countries with such medieval policies is our lack of the death penalty for drug offences,” he says.

What happens when drugs are decriminalised?
Multiple studies of what happened in Portugal show the hugely positive impact decriminalisation has had over the past 15 or so years. The country has an extremely low rate of overdose deaths and has reduced the number of HIV-positive people addicted to drugs.

It has also saved millions of euros in prison expenses while the level of drug use has not gone up.

The legalisation of cannabis in some US states has not led to a rise in adolescent use, a US study found. It revealed that while cannabis use was generally higher in the states that had passed medical marijuana legislation before 2014, the passage of such laws did not affect the rate of marijuana use in those states.

British experts pushing for medicinal and research use of the drug welcomed the news. “Patients with... severe health problems are currently being denied effective treatment in the UK,” Professor Val Curran, the UK’s foremost expert on medical marijuana.

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