The American Legion Magazine | 6.1.09

Anti-drug laws vary greatly from country to country, with sentencing ranging from simple fines to capital punishment, as the following world tour reveals.  

United States
Penalties depend on a range of factors, including the kind of drug, the amount of drug, criminal history, whether it is a state or federal charge, whether mandatory minimums come into play, etc. According to eJustice, average incarceration for federal drug possession is 81 months, for state possession 20 months. According to the DEA, federal penalties for trafficking drugs such as cocaine, LSD, heroin, PCP and meth range from five years to 40 years. Federal penalties for trafficking marijuana range from five years to more than 20 years. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 19.5 percent of those in state prison are there on drug-related offenses; 53 percent of the federal prison population are drug offenders.

Convictions for drug offenses can carry sentences of up to 25 years. While drugs pour in and transit out of Mexico, Mexicans are, by and large, not users, especially compared to their American neighbors: The UN reports that the “annual prevalence of abuse as a percentage of the population aged 15-64” of opiates is six-times higher in the U.S. than in Mexico; of cocaine almost four-times higher; of cannabis more than five-times higher; of amphetamines four-times higher. Mexico arrested 19,120 of its citizens on drug charges in 2007, according to the State Department.

The Canadian government plans to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for a range of drug offenses, including one-year sentences for dealing marijuana when connected to organized crime or if a weapon is involved; two-year sentences for dealing cocaine, heroin or meth to minors or near a school; and two-year sentences for large-scale marijuana-growing operations.

Penalties for trafficking/dealing drugs having a value of $19,240 or more range from ten years to life in prison.

Russian courts impose long sentences for those found in possession of drugs of any kind, although the Drug Policy Alliance Network, a pro-legalization group based in the U.S., reports that Russia has eased penalties for possession of small amounts, allowing for fines or community service rather than incarceration.

Possession can carry a penalty of seven years or more, and some drug-related crimes have resulted in the death penalty. In 2002 more than 60 people were executed for drug crimes. China arrested 56,200 suspects on drug charges in 2006, according to the State Department.

Penalties for possession/use include prison sentences of five to ten years and heavy fines; trafficking can carry a death sentence.

The British government notes that “Japan has a zero tolerance policy towards drug crime and there are severe penalties for drug offenses, however minor.”

Possession of even small amounts of narcotics carries a minimum sentence of six months; there’s a 10-year sentence for possession of larger amounts.

South Korea
Drug users face a range of possible sentences, including community service, detoxification, rehabilitation or a three-year imprisonment; drug traffickers face large fines, life imprisonment and even capital punishment, according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network.

Drug offenders face a range of penalties, including incarceration of up to 10 years, military-type boot camp and large fines; trafficking can result in capital punishment, according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network.

Sources: eJustice, “Drug Possession Statistics,” OnlineLawyerSource.com; U.S. DEA, “Federal Trafficking Penalties”; Library of Congress, “News and Events”; “Government reintroduces legislation to fight serious drug crimes,” Marketwire.com, February 27, 2009; UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008 World Drug Report; U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2007; British Foreign Office; Drug Policy Alliance Network; U.S. State Department, International Narcotics Control Strategy, March 2008; U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2007.