Marijuana Decriminalization Gains Momentum WorldwideCanada, New Zealand, Jamaica Ponder Policy Change; Portuguese Decrim-Law to Take Effect in July

Marijuana decriminalization is becoming the worldwide drug policy of choice as more and more nations are amending or re-evaluating their pot laws. Government commissions in Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica are currently pondering whether to remove criminal penalties for the possession and use of the drug – a position already adopted by the majority of countries in the European Union.
“The current global trend is to move away from the American ‘do drugs-do time’ drug policy model, especially as it pertains to marijuana,” said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation. He noted that the United States was recently voted off the International Narcotics Control Board – a United Nations drug monitoring body – and replaced by the Netherlands, a country known for its lenient marijuana policies.
A New Zealand parliamentary select committee began hearing testimony this week on whether to decriminalize the drug. Already, the inquiry has generated over 500 submissions. A 1998 government commission on the mental health effects of marijuana concluded, “Occasional cannabis use presents few risks to the mental health of most adult users,” and acknowledged that “prohibition enforced by traditional crime control methods has not been successful in reducing the apparent number of cannabis users.”
Interim findings from Jamaica’s National Commission on Ganja also appear strongly in favor of decriminalization. Commission chair Barry Chevannes told The Jamaica Gleaner last week, “It may be deduced so far that most persons and organizations would support the decriminalization of the use of ganja for private purposes and in private spaces.” The commission is scheduled to complete its inquiry by August.
In Canada, strong public and political support now favors removing criminal penalties for pot possession. Nearly 50 percent of the public favor legalizing it – up from 24 percent in 1990 – and the House of Commons recently voted to commence an 18-month inquiry to study the issue.
It is likely that all three nations may eventually go the route of Portugal, which will stop prosecuting marijuana and other drug users next month when newly approved legislation goes into effect. Portugal is the second EU nation this year to decriminalize marijuana, following the Belgian government, which lifted its pot ban earlier this year.
According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, only four EU countries maintain criminal penalties on the personal consumption of marijuana, while seven no longer criminally punish the use of any drug.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation, at (202) 483-8751. To read a copy of NORML’s report on European drug policy, visit the NORML website.