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Drug decriminalization policy: New report

Drug decriminalization policy: New report

The prevalence of drug use has increased for decades all around the world despite all the strict measures taken. The traditional approach creates not only social injustices at the individual level but also public health problems and high social costs at the macro level. Decriminalization policy has emerged to balance the unresponsive prohibitionist drug policy. Hence, the primary purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of decriminalization policy. The literature reviews are based on reports published by governments and NGOs and peer-review articles, as well as critical response papers on the topic. To this end, relevant keywords were used to search Google Scholar and other academic search engines. The results were analyzed to examine the models, implementation procedures, and as well as outcomes.

Although decriminalization is generally used as an umbrella term representing contemporary strategy, countries have developed models according to their priorities, social and administrative settings. Each model seems to be unique; nevertheless, the categorization is utilized to provide a framework and to give an estimate about potential outcomes. Since the way the issue has emerged in each country has varied, each design focuses on particular needs, which has led to different results. Nevertheless, while policy expectations define the means, the context mainly shapes the ends. Thus, the considerable contextual variation between countries complicates policy adaptation and comparison, which brings challenges and criticism. 

Policy shift

The study shows that one of the essential steps in policy design is the necessity of the paradigm shift. The general expectation from the decriminalization policy is to alter the government approach in managing drug problem. Drug policy has been considered a criminal justice issue for many decades, and it has been acknowledged that the system is not able to produce the best or sought-after results.

However, the power politics of government institutions may play a role in policy design. The security and judicial power in government may affect the decision-making process. It may be perceived as losing control or authority on this matter. However, the issues should be discussed beyond the power politics of government institutions. The loosening of the role of law enforcement may be a crucial prerequisite for transition; however, the ongoing influence of the criminal justice system has the potential to remove gains in the long run. Thus, intervening on drug issues within a health framework will produce better outcomes.

Decriminalization outcomes

Decriminalization policy is generally utilized to reduce public health risks, overdose deaths, and the costs of prohibition. The findings in countries where it has been implemented provide substantial evidence for these outcomes. Decriminalization policy is effective in reducing infectious diseases and drug-related deaths among people who use drugs (PWUD), and it provides an encouraging environment to PWUD for seeking help and demanding drug treatment. It facilitates the integration of PWUDs in society and increases educational attainment and employment. Besides, drug-related overloads on criminal justice have reduced tremendously, which reduces the cost of policing and prisoning, and moreover, law enforcement prioritizes supply-side drug crimes and other serious offenses.

On the other hand, the more controversial debates are more likely to concentrate on the prevalence of drug use. One of the main barriers to policy adaptation is the fear of a rapid increase in overall drug use after implementation; however, the findings show that there is not a significant increase in the long run. Since the legal status of the drugs is not the only predictor of drug use in a society, a focus also should be given to the regional trends, drug culture, and other drug-related policies to comprehend the drug initiation broadly. The report includes theoretical frameworks for the mechanism of substitution effects between substances and their relationship with decriminalization policy.

Word frequency analysis of the report

In addition, the complexities around drug policy affect society in several areas. Coherent policy design is needed to produce the expected outcomes at the macro level. For instance, if the aim is to prevent overdose deaths, more resources should also be devoted to harm reduction services. A simple change in the status in law in terms of personal drug use or possession is not an adequate response to reduce the number of overdose deaths. The outcomes should be defined more carefully, and the impacts of policy should be interpreted more cautiously.


Finally, besides reviewing different existing decriminalization models from different global regions, as well as their outcomes and policy implications, we provided the overall policy outcomes of the three European countries to emphasize the contextual factors. Since the contexts were clearly noticed to matter strongly throughout this report, it cannot be stressed enough that every country must find the model that best fits its aims, values, and local circumstances.


Ali Unlu, Tuukka Tammi, Pekka Hakkarainen: Drug Decriminalization Policy. Literature Review: Models, Implementation and Outcomes. Report 9/2020.

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