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Altered Reality. Decriminalisation of Drugs in Europe and Its Consequences


Some European countries are known for their lenient attitudes towards the production and consumption of marijuana and other soft drugs. But how consequence-free is it to enjoy an altered reality in Europe?

It turns out that, overall, the European Union does not support the distribution of narcotic substances, although the legislation in various countries often openly contradicts the actual situation.

On August 17, it became known that the German government approved the partial legalisation of marijuana in the country. Currently, this only concerns the decriminalisation of use and possession, with full legalisation being the next step.

If all goes according to plan, Germany will become the second European country to legalise marijuana consumption.

Photo: Omer Messinger / Getty Images

However, the first country to allow the use and cultivation of "magic" grass back in 2021 was... Malta. Here, it is allowed to have up to four narcotic plants at home. However, smoking marijuana in public is illegal, and if caught with cannabis in the presence of children, you can be fined from 300 to 500 euros.


The Netherlands, on the other hand, a country famous for its "coffee shops" where you can purchase drugs in various forms, from joints or cakes to suspiciously wrinkled mushrooms, officially does not support "legalisation." The country operates a policy of tolerance, under which prosecutors do not prosecute coffee shop owners if they adhere to five important rules:

  • Do not advertise drugs;
  • Do not sell hard drugs;
  • Do not sell soft drugs to children;
  • Do not sell more than 5 grams in one transaction;
  • Do not disrupt public order.

For consumers of soft drugs, there are no penalties, but in most municipal districts, there is a rule that allows the purchase of substances in coffee shops only for residents of the Netherlands.

Photo: Emma Ryte

Portugal followed a similar path; the government decriminalised the consumption of all drugs, including heroin. Now, it is possible to possess up to ten doses of any narcotic substance for personal use. Additionally, police officers have the right, upon discovering narcotic substances, to require the offender to appear before a special commission that will decide whether the person needs treatment for drug addiction or if a fine ranging from 25 to 150 euros would be more appropriate.

It should be noted that such generosity towards citizens with drug dependencies is not a sudden philanthropic act by the government but a dire necessity: starting from the 90s, almost every family had someone with an addiction issue, and it was simply physically impossible to criminally prosecute half the country.

The results of this lenient policy have been rather frightening, write the authors of The Washington Post. "The number of overdoses in the country has reached a 12-year high in the last four years. And wastewater samples in Lisbon show that the detection level of cocaine and ketamine is now one of the highest in Europe."

In Spain, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methadone are partially decriminalised. Here, there are so-called "social clubs" - associations that provide their members with drugs. However, the use of narcotics in public places can result in fines of up to 30,000 euros.

Similar "social clubs" operate in Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and many other European countries. Most often, they assist in purchasing cannabis, but depending on the legislation, they can also help with the purchase of other drugs.

Photo: Sensiseeds

By the way, in Belgium, as early as 2003, growing and storing marijuana for personal use was allowed: one live plant and 3 grams for consumption. At the same time, there are fines in the country ranging from 120 to 200 euros for a first offence and up to a year in prison for recidivism.

Contradictory legislation and a plethora of unofficial social agreements have led to the fact that most European countries practically do not punish drug users and, in extreme cases, impose fines rather than imprisonment.

Nowadays, many countries in Europe are discussing the need to bring their laws into line with reality and close the chapter on criminal penalties for the use or possession of soft drugs.

For instance, in the well-known German news program Tagesschau, they stated: "The previous policy elevated millions of people to the rank of criminals and jeopardised their health because they had to consume poor-quality products.

The old policy strengthened the black market and did not provide effective protection for children and youths. Moreover, such a policy did not yield any successes: the number of marijuana users has been increasing year by year, and it was impossible to eliminate it from Germany at all.

New plans are a great idea, as they can put an end to this "bury your head in the sand" policy (of government)."

Cover photo: Mauro Pimentel / AFP via Getty Images

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