The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The move toward drug legalization globally seems to be more of a laissez-faire social experiment than a rigorously thought-out policy.

Cannabis legalization has arrived in Germany, yet it appears to be part of a troubling international trend: the devaluation of long-term societal consequences in favor of short-term financial gains and political lobbying. In a nation celebrated for its contributions to technology, innovation, and creativity, this seemingly cavalier attitude toward drug policy raises deep concerns.

A recent large-scale study shows that cannabis can alter brain structure, particularly in adolescents, leading to impulsiveness and reduced concentration. Despite ongoing debates over the merits of legalization, the scientific consensus remains: cannabis can cause irreversible damage to developing brains.

In the Netherlands, synthetic drugs have an estimated market value of €9 billion annually, just within the province of North Brabant. Local governance is warning of losing control, as organized crime is mostly responsible for exporting these drugs abroad. The estimated annual turnover from this illegal export is between €19 to €20 billion, with organized crime netting profits of around €900 million.

The Marengo trial, initiated in 2019, has been a chilling wake-up call. Taking place after a series of murders connected to organized crime between 2015 and 2017, the trial has seen its own share of violence. People indirectly and directly involved in the proceedings have been killed, deepening the crisis.

In 2019, the Netherlands became the EU’s second-largest location for cocaine seizures, trailing only behind Belgium. According to Dutch criminologists, this level of drug trafficking is unlikely to occur without corruption among customs, port authorities, and the police. However, the infiltration of criminal networks through EncroChat has led to multiple drug lab dismantlements and prevented further violent crimes, revealing the shocking scale of the problem.

In the United States, cannabis has been legalized in several states like California, but this hasn’t halted the influx of new, harmful substances. Los Angeles is currently battling an epidemic of a “zombie drug” known as xylazine, a dangerous substance that can cause severe bodily harm. Furthermore, Oregon’s decriminalization of even hard drugs seems to have made Portland a haven for addicts across the country.

Since 2018, Canada has legalized cannabis for adults in the hopes of undermining the black market. Yet, British Columbia has also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs like ecstasy and heroin. Despite the government’s noble intentions, the market has yet to fully transition into legality, raising questions about the efficacy of such policies.

Even in Uruguay, where regulation and sales of cannabis are state-controlled, a staggering 73% of users procure their drugs from unapproved channels. This suggests that even the best-intentioned policies can struggle against the power of the black market.

The move toward drug legalization globally seems to be more of a laissez-faire social experiment than a rigorously thought-out policy. Arguments based on personal freedom and economic gains are increasingly confronted by the complexities of public health, organized crime, and societal well-being.

A legacy of the ’68ers?

It seems that the ethos of the ’68ers—an easygoing life without effort—is echoing in our contemporary policies. While economic stimulation through cannabis might be a mirage, what remains certain is that we are veering into an uncertain future. The critical question is whether our society can afford the long-term costs of this relaxed stance on drugs.

Eva Kneifel is studying Politics and History at FernUniversität Campus Hagen.