What can Australia learn from different approaches to drugs in Europe including especially Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden?

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Author: Caitlin Hughes, Alex Wodak

Resource Type: General

Executive summary

This is a background paper for the Australia 21 Roundtable, to be held in Melbourne, on 6th July 2012, at which national opinion leaders familiar with Australian and international public policy, and drug policy experts, will discuss the question “What can Australia learn from different approaches to drugs in Europe including especially Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden?”

This will be the second of two roundtables organised by Australia21. The first was held in January 2012 with 24 former senior politicians, law enforcement officers, public health officials and experts on drug policy, and concluded that the international and Australian prohibition of the use of certain “illicit” drugs has failed comprehensively and that Australia must have an informed national debate about the prohibition of drug use, and alternatives to its regulation and control.

This discussion paper draws attention to the drug policies of four European nations, Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden. Each country has been selected because of its particular approach and the evidence about that approach that has accumulated. For each nation we consider three central questions:

  1. What is this country's approach to drugs?

  2. Why did this country approach drugs in this way?

  3. What have been the positive and negative outcomes of this approach?

We conclude by considering the lessons and quandaries for Australia.

The Australia 21 report that resulted from this background paper and roundtable discussion is available here.