Has the debate on the decriminalization of drugs evolved in recent years?

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AAt the Holland Pop Festival in Rotterdam in June 1970, 150,000 civilians gathered for three days of performances by Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds and Mungo Jerry. Nicknamed the “Dutch Woodstock”, it is also widely believed to be the point at which Dutch authorities began to establish a tolerance towards cannabis. The drug, which was openly smoked by festival-goers, was observed by plainclothes police as not appearing to cause any particularly concerning or disruptive behavior.

It was therefore decided that while the government would not go so far as to legalize cannabis, a small amount for recreational use would be tolerated and could be purchased from specified retailers – the now famous coffeeshops. Much of this was to control the use of cannabis rather than drive it underground where it might become a gateway to more harmful drugs.

We can say that they have had some success on this front: in the 2019 report of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), there were 262 overdose deaths in the Netherlands in 2017, which equates to 22 deaths per million – the European average. In England and Wales in the same year there were 3,756 drug-related deaths, or 66.1 per million. By 2020, that figure had risen to 4,561 and 79.5 per million, respectively. Staggering figures but perhaps unsurprising given that in its 2015 report the EMCDDA found that Britons used more drugs than any other European country.

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