Americans try more drugs than people in any other country. We have five percent of the world's population, but we use 75 percent of the world's prescription drugs (often without a prescription). That being said, our drug war has also created a very harsh environment for drug users, and many end up in prison. Things appear to be changing, with the legalization of marijuana in several states, but other countries are already leading the way for drug policy reform.
We've covered Portugal's progressive drug policies before, so we'll start there. Portugal was the first country in Europe to decriminalize all drugs. That doesn't mean they're openly selling heroin in the local store, like marijuana is sold in Colorado, but it means you won't go to prison for having drugs, selling drugs, or using them. You can still face minor criminal penalties for things like selling drugs, such as receiving a fine. Instead of throwing people in jail, though, Portugal has started focusing on rehabilitating drug users and treating addiction like the disease it is.
Instead of punishing people without really helping them reconsider their life decisions, Portugal offers drug addicts counseling, needle exchange programs, and access to hospitals. Since starting this approach, Portugal has gone from arresting 14,000 people per year for drug offenses to just around 6,000. It went from having a heroin epidemic to having the lowest drug usage rate in the European Union. Not only are the jails and prisons less full, people are using less dangerous drugs.
Switzerland also has some pretty relaxed drug policies that are aimed at helping people. Marijuana has been decriminalized since 2013, and the country has had harm reduction programs for drug users since the 1980s. Switzerland was facing an HIV/AIDS epidemic at that time, and the disease was spreading rapidly between drug users who shared needles. Instead of just rounding up the drug users and putting them in straightjackets, the country began offering housing, job programs, needles exchanges, methadone programs, and supervised injection rooms for drug addicts.
"The number of drug injectors with HIV has been reduced by over 50 percent in 10 years. Overdose mortality among injectors has been reduced by over 50 percent in the decade," Dr. Ambros Uchtenhagen, of the Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction at Zurich University, told Reuters in 2010. "Delinquency related to drugs has been reduced enormously."
Similar programs have been instituted in other countries around the world, including in Canada. In Vancouver, B.C., many clinics are letting people bring heroin in so they can do use it under a doctor's supervision, or they're actually giving the addicts heroin so they're not getting sick from a bad batch. Thanks to this program, less people are dying on the streets because of their drug problems.
3. Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is pretty lenient with its drug laws. As of now, drug users in the country can grow up to five marijuana plants, they can have as much as an ounce of weed on their person, a gram of cocaine, one and a half grams of heroin, or two grams of a methamphetamine. There's more: you can have as much as 40 psychedelic mushrooms, five peyote plants, and five tabs of LSD. The popular rave communities in the country are rejoicing. The country also now has an expansive medical marijuana program. The Czechs still pursue and punish those thought to be trafficking or distributing drugs, but the common drug user faces little more than a fine if they're caught with amounts thought to be for personal use.
Like Portugal, the Czech Republic also offers harm reduction programs like needle exchange programs, counseling, and free tests for infectious diseases. They even offer aluminum foil to drug users for heroin smoking. You would think this would turn the country into a giant drug party, but drug use has actually gone down and so has the amount of overdoses.
4. The Netherlands
We all know why you go to Amsterdam. (Although, now that I'm familiar with Prague, it may not be the only marijuana destination.) In the Netherlands, it's completely legal to walk around with as much as five grams of marijuana on you. The country has laws against producing and distributing pot, but it doesn't seem like they're that active in pursuing it. As for hard drugs, anyone with half a gram or less will generally not get into any trouble, but the police will most likely take it away from you.
There was a major controversy around 2011 when Dutch leaders decided it was time to ban tourists from participating in marijuana use in the "coffee shops" where you can buy and smoke the substance legally. They planned to change it so only citizens could utilize the industry, and they would have to have a membership card. After a massive response from the "coffee shop" community and other tourism-based industries, they altered the law to allow cities to decide how to handle it. Amsterdam, as you guessed, got rid of the restrictions altogether. Some other cities in the country do, however, deny tourists.
As anyone who is following the change in drug laws around the world should know very well by now, Uruguay is a leader. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to formally legalize marijuana. The country's government sells a gram of cannabis for $1, which has had a major impact on drug traffickers. Uruguayans can buy 40 grams per month, and you have to be a citizen or a permanent resident to buy it. If you fit those parameters and don't want to buy it from the government, you can grow as many as six plants of marijuana. Personal use of most kinds of psychedelic mushrooms is also permitted.
As for harder drugs, it is not illegal to use drugs like cocaine and heroin, but the country does pursue people who are part of major distribution networks. Uruguay has struggled with the cocaine trade for some time, which is partially why they legalized marijuana so they could focus on more serious drug convictions.