International Drug Policies

Drugs are not just an American problem.  The drug epidemic is nationally bound.  Among the diversity in cultures there is a common goal to reduce the problems that drugs impose on public safety among the European Union.  Each nation has strong opinions on how this goal should be defined and attained.  Due to the strong standings on the issue, we find that drug policies can vary based on the country.  This paper will focus on current national drug policies in Canada, England, and the Netherlands; and compare and contrast the various policies and then provide an assessment of whether or not these policies would be viable to institute in the U.S.

Canada’s federal drug law is bulked up in one main statute dealing with illicit drugs, it is called the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).  This statute is responsible for six offenses including: possession, trafficking, cultivation, importing or exporting, and prescription shopping.  The CDSA modernizes Canadian policy and has been in much demand.  According to Dr. Riley (1998), there was an extreme increase of illicit drug use that affected much of the country.  The use of marijuana spiked from 4.2% to 7% and heroin jumped from .3% to 1%.  Although the numbers seem small, the increase in drug use became very dangerous for public safety.  In fact, the CFDP reported 41% of illicit drug users shared hypoallergenic drug needles, increasing risk of HIV and AIDS.  The CDSA is a means to set consequences for individuals that are found in possession, distribution, and production of marijuana. The Canadian Federal Law guidelines are strictly enforced and anyone found in possession of cannabis of 30 grams or less and have distributed less than 3 kilograms will receive a reduced sentence with maximum jail time of six months and five years.  Canada’s maximum for possession of heroin and cocaine remain at seven years with a maximum sentence of life in prison for distributing the illegal drugs.  (Riley, 1998)  Canada’s law does not prohibit individuals from using other very dangerous and addicting drugs.  Under the CDSA many illicit drugs such as methadone and heroin are prescribed as therapeutic drugs and are used under strict monitoring to aide in rehabilitation and treatment of drug users. It seems as though Canada focuses primarily on cannabis and yet the policies appear much more laid back compared to that of the U.S.

The drug policy in the Netherlands is different, in that it separates the market for illegal drugs.  With a leniency for cannabis, many coffee shops are permitted to sell this drug with few restrictions, as long as they do not create a nuisance to the community and do not push harder drugs.  By separating drugs by categories of soft and hard drugs they are also guiding society to view specific drug use as acceptable means of behavior.  The Opium Act of 1919 has been revised a few times, but the same view remains.  The soft drugs such as cannabis are not as damaging as the hard drugs.  Drugs have been named and listed as list 1 and list 2 and define which drugs are to be viewed as criminal and which ones are socially acceptable as long as they are distributed according to the order.  The Netherlands does allow the use of medicinal drugs for sickness and also treatment for drug addiction.  (Tops, Svensson, & Veldhoen, 2001)The law states that anyone distributing the drug unlawfully can face up to 12 years imprisonment.  In the Netherlands possession and supply are strictly prohibited throughout the country and are viewed as major crimes against policy.  It is also legal to cultivate cannabis in one’s home as long as it does not disturb the neighbors.  If a complaint is made or a pungent smell is leaked from the home, in which law enforcement will remove the prohibited objects from the premises.  The drug law in the Netherlands is even more relaxed when compared to policies set in Canada.  The laws are meant to be hard on traffickers and soft on the abusers.

England’s drug policies are defined by two main statues; The Misuse of Drugs Act and the Medicines Act.  The Misuse of Drugs Act is intended to prevent the use of non-medical drugs.  Drugs that fall under this act are known as controlled drugs and include a drugs that do not hold medicinal value for current use.  The law dictates a series of offenses including unlawful possession, intent to distribute or supply, import or export, and unlawful production. (Government of Canada, 1996)  Law enforcement are empowered to perform search and seizure on people as long as there’s reasonable suspicion that they are in possession of a controlled substance.  In order for the illicit drugs to be considered controlled there must be guidelines that are strictly enforced.   Some guidelines can be viewed as very relaxed to the public.  In England it is legal for anyone over the age of five to consume alcohol.  Yet it is illegal to smoke in public areas.  Drugs are listed in categories and the punishment is determined based on such.  The punishment for drug trafficking of an illicit drug such as LSD or ecstasy a category A drug,  is looking at life in prison, where as possession will result in seven years imprisonment.  Much like Canada and the Netherlands; England some drugs are used in treatments for users undergoing rehabilitation from an addiction.  The Medicines Act is enforced and affects the prescription drug trade.  Enforcing prescriptions for medicinal drugs and are provided by a licensed physician only.

Current international policy reflects European countries provide more leeway to citizens, giving them the option to consume soft drugs to deter them from harder addictions.  This is in an effort to reduce crime and not interfere with public safety.  Although different in the approach Canada, Netherlands, and England implement strict policies and enforce tight punishments to anyone that cannot respect the law.  I am certain that these laid back laws would not work here in the United States and would create a danger to society.  More impaired drivers would be found behind the wheel, we would see an increase in drug sales on our streets, and new and more dangerous drugs would emerge.  In order to keep order we must tighten up the reins on current drug policy and enforce severe consequences to anyone that chooses to break the law.  When we lighten up and make the illegal legal we are sending the wrong message to our young people.  America needs to be a role model for these other countries and never give in to the demands of the drug war.


Riley, D. (1998, November 1). Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada:. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from

Tops, D., Svensson, D., & Veldhoen, D. (2001, March 1). THE DRUG POLICIES OF THE NETHERLANDS AND SWEDEN: HOW DO THEY COMPARE? Retrieved May 17, 2015, from

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19). (1996). Retrieved May 18, 2015, from

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