Popular culture and marijuana are hard to disassociate, especially when it comes to the perception of permissive drug laws in Europe.
The smoky Dutch “coffee shops” are iconic images of the perceived laissez-faire European attitude about cannabis. And while marijuana isn’t technically legal in the Netherlands — the only country to legalize the drug is Peru — the general trend in Europe is one of prevention and decriminalization rather than punishment.
That's also in stark contrast to Asia, especially Southeast Asia, where governments concentrate much more on punishment as a deterrent to drug use and distribution. Countries like Malaysia, China and Singapore carry a mandatory death penalty from trafficking and throughout the area there are stiff prison sentences possible for consumption and use.
In Australia there is more a trend to decriminalization. States and territories impose their own penalties and many have moved to or are moving towards making marijuana possession a minor criminal offense.
In Portugal, drugs are illegal and possession of a “modest quantity” will result in the drugs being seized. And the person caught will have his or her case heard by a panel of a doctor, lawyer and social assistant to recommend treatment options, which are not mandatory.
“Since Portugal enacted its decriminalization scheme in 2001, drug usage in many categories has actually decreased when measured in absolute terms, whereas usage in other categories has increased only slightly or mildly,” according to a studyby the libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute.
Supporters of more liberal laws also point out that leniency, especially when applied to what are called “soft drugs” like marijuana, has not resulted in a jump in use by the population.