Drug Policies Around the World & How They Affect Society

What is most effective at keeping a society safe from addictive substances while minimizing the costs of such efforts? When it comes to the penalties for the use and sales of illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin, each country around the world has its own set of rules and punishments. Today we compare four: the United States, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland.

United States Policies


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In the 70s Richard Nixon began the “war on drugs” and ever since then the country has been spending billions in courts while hunting down drug traffickers at all borders as well as within the U.S. 21.5 million Americans 12 years or older battled substance abuse in 2014. The harsh penalties for possession or sale are reinforced by the statistic that a 80% of prisoners are either addicted or were incarcerated for drug-related crimes.

Laws in Australia

The laws in Australia concerning drugs are almost identical to those in the United States. The Australian government places emphasis on drug education in schools. However, Australia has been more outspoken in harm reduction measures like needle exchange programs, leading to drug offense statistics of roughly 20% of offenses in 2015-2016.

Germany’s Stance on Drugs

Although serious penalties are the result of possession or sale of large quantities, no criminal action is taken for small-scale possession and use. The German government has even allowed supervised “drug rooms” where individuals can safely use their drug of choice and receive counseling. They also offer opioid substitution treatments. The EMCDDA Country Drug Report 2017 reports 292, 227 drug law offenses. The most common drugs seized are cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, and heroin.

Drug Policy in Switzerland

Switzerland is home to the most liberal drug policies in the world, serving as a global model. Swiss government emphasizes “prevention, therapy, harm reduction and prohibition” — putting special attention towards helping drug addicts receive treatments. This has reduced deaths while also cutting crime rates. They were the first sponsors of “safe rooms,” allowing heroin users to shoot up with clean needles in a non-threatening environment.

The progressive countries of Europe appear to be leading the way for the decriminalization of drug use and possession. Even though this attitude has captured lots of negative feedback, many claim it helps provide successful programs for the health and wellbeing of their citizens. As more policies begin to favor the positive treatment of addicts, jail systems may be steadily emptied of drug-addicted individuals, allowing tax dollars and government attention to be focused elsewhere.


ShaeShae Holland is a professional copywriter and loves philosophical discussions. Visit her site here.