Out of a European viewpoint (do I have a choice ;))…
As the OP sets the example a note on were one stands on this personally might be in place. Calling me sailor’s complete antithesis would be pretty fair. I suspect that we might have been going to quite different kinds of parties in high school. Nowadays I’m mostly a vodka and wine exclusively man (whatdayathink? I’m French/Scandinavian fercryinoutloud!) I also had to see a few friends go in the ground over the years due to ODs. Hence I agree that it’s a serious problem and nothing to be flippant about.
Even if I almost never smoke myself; on a pure ideological level I am pro legalization of marihuana. I might sometimes think that alcohol should be handled more carefully by society. But that’s another thread altogether.
As the article points out European legislation varies pretty much on this issue. It mentions my folks ‘old country’ (Sweden) as being on par with the US, but it’s actually harsher measures that are in effect; it is even illegal to be under the influence of illicit substances.
I think the general idea here is that criminalization of the stuff marginalizes addicts into a sub-society were they don’t get the help they need plus drives them into other forms of criminality. Reversely a more lax environment means lower stigma for the user, hence easier to spot and to help someone who is slipping into abuse. This seems to hold up pretty well as the examples in the article show. Sweden on the other hand is often taken as the example that harsh measures help. This is true as well, but why doesn’t that work in the US? Well, Sweden also has a very lenient penal system and it is a welfare state with relatively speaking huge amounts of state subsidized rehabilitation resources.
Living in the states I noted (might be the circles I frequent, but the stats support me here as well) that the level of abuse is pretty equal, while the ‘knock out’ rate on a social level is higher. I don’t think that a complete legalization of drugs is an option anywhere and especially not in the US. What I do believe needs to happen is a decriminalization of the use. Take Robert Downey Jr. as an example. He seems to be on the road to recovery at this moment, but he’s got great lawyers and lots of support. Hence he gets off pretty easy and once out he’s got the resources to put himself through rehab. I’ve seen less fortunate examples in the States were a life already ruined by drugs gets utterly destroyed as the addict goes to prison for possession only to spiral further down into the swamp, they get out and have nothing except their addiction to fall back on and it starts all over again.
Unfortunately there is no panacea and it’s all about a golden middle way. But I think that it’s time that we stop punishing those who have already got a punishing problem. Focus more resources to go after the drug cartels instead. And even if I said it was another thread; legalize marihuana, that will save a hell of a lot of resources that the DEA wastes going after what is proven to be a less harmful habit than alcohol.
Thus is my humble opinion,