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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Are drugs socially acceptable in Europe?
In many European countries, the use of soft drugs such as cannabis is, if not decriminalised, at least tolerated in many respects.

Young professionals and older former hippies, for example, will readily admit to taking drugs occasionally.

In several countries, police may caution rather than fine people caught with small amounts of cannabis. In this context, our Europewide debate asks: have drugs, especially soft drugs, become socially acceptable in Europe?

Joining Laurence Zavriew to debate the issue are Dutch Labour MEP, Joke Swiebel in Strasbourg, and from Dublin, Grainne Kenny, President of Europe Against Drugs.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

The Dutch are very pragmatic about the law

Barry O' Dwyer, The Netherlands
The Netherlands has a very sensible policy, based upon a determination to prevent people being forced to buy "soft drugs" from the same pushers who sell "hard drugs". The former can be purchased in quantities up to 5g at any "coffee shop", but the coffee shops cannot stock or sell hard drugs.

Admittedly, this does involve a grey area in which it is illegal to supply a coffee shop with cannabis, but the sale of small quantities of cannabis for personal consumption by the same coffee shop will be "tolerated". However, the Dutch are very pragmatic about the law, and they would rather retain this anomaly than close the coffee shops and return to a system in which marijuana has to be bought from street dealers, over whom the authorities have no control whatsoever.
Barry O' Dwyer, The Netherlands

The problem in this country is that it is impossible to have an intelligent debate about anything. Someone mentioned Leah Betts. She died because of a lack of knowledge of how ecstasy works and how much water to drink. This lack of knowledge is what is killing people not the drugs themselves.
Vishal Vashisht, UK

If it becomes generally perceived that only sick people take drugs then it will lose a lot of the excitement of doing something illegal

Andy, Gdansk, Poland
Who are the real victims of drug abuse? They are the countless ordinary people who are mugged or burgled by drug users to finance their habits. I say legalise all drugs - if someone wants to destroy their own life then at least they won't need to destroy the lives of ordinary decent people who don't want anything to do with it. Also, drugs abuse will then be seen as a medical problem, the same as alcoholism. If it becomes generally perceived that only sick people take drugs then it will lose a lot of the excitement of doing something illegal.
Andy, Gdansk, Poland

The way the that Government and "well respected" officials say that cannabis is morally wrong, I think just shows their ignorance of contemporary issues. They say that cannabis leads to harder drugs. Well, surely the first drug smoked was tobacco.
Stuart, England

A simple possession charge for a teenager is enough in Canada to ensure they have a permanent record. That record hinders their ability to find employment and gives the police an excuse to hassle them for the smallest infraction. If we can't legalise marijuana then we should at least decriminalise it to protect our youth, the leaders of tomorrow.
Robert Ewen, Vancouver, Canada

I'd be interested to see whether the GM scientists can do anything to make these drugs non-addictive or even repulsive to drug takers

Paul R, UK
The drugs industry is so large now it seems to be impossible to stop by conventional means. I'd be interested to see whether the GM scientists can do anything to make these drugs non-addictive or even repulsive to drug takers.
Paul R, UK

I smoked marijuana throughout my university years and found it extremely stimulating: using the drug really helped me explore my subject with my friends. I ended up with a first-class degree from a prestigious university. However, I saw several friends encounter mental problems through their overuse of the drug - just as I saw others develop the beginnings of alcoholism, and countless more become hooked on nicotine. All drugs have both beneficial and harmful effects. Educating people in the effects of drugs so that they can make real choices - without the threat of legal punishment - will help us to reduce the risks of drug taking and, in many cases, improve our lives.
Withheld, London, UK

Who are the victims when you jail someone for possession of drugs for personal use?

Paul, Solicitor, UK

Importation of cannabis is treated by the law as four times worse a crime than rape. Possession of soft drugs can lead to arrest, imprisonment, and the loss of your career. Has it occurred to anyone that if Leah Betts had survived the pill that killed her, she could have been jailed for possession under current law? Where is the justice in that? Who are the victims when you jail someone for possession of drugs for personal use?
Paul, Solicitor, UK

When reports state that the reason that England football fans didn't behave in the Netherlands in the same way they behaved in Belgium was because they had been using cannabis, you have to ask why cannabis is illegal in so much of Europe, while alcohol is such a part of the culture of the continent.
Dave Lock, Wales

Policy makers and legislators are themselves users or former users of soft and recreational drugs. It would therefore be pure hypocrisy to take a hard line. When Prozac possibly has more side effects than cannabis you can begin to see the muddled thinking. At present enforcement is also muddled and inconsistent.

The way users are treated is just a lottery, depending on which police force you come up against. Its time to follow the lead of countries such as the Netherlands and Spain and stop making criminals of those in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. We can then concentrate resources on real criminal activity.
John, UK

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Europewide Debate
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See also:

08 Jun 00 | In Depth
14 May 00 | Euro2000
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