Governments around the world use different legal approaches to drugs. Generally, the production and sale of drugs is either prohibited or legalized and regulated. A person found in possession of drugs can face criminal charges, non-criminal charges or no charge. The law may also require public health programs for treatment, prevention and harm reduction. Most countries use a combination of approaches depending on the drug. Some examples of different approaches to drugs are described below.

  • Alcohol is legal and regulated with rules for consumption, sale and production.
  • Non-medical use of cannabis will be legalized and regulated in 2018. Authorized medical use of cannabis is legal.
  • Other drugs such as heroin are illegal, and possessing/producing/selling them is a crime.
  • The consumption of illegal drugs in federally-approved supervised consumption services (e.g., supervised injection sites) is not a crime.

  • Alcohol is legal and regulated with rules for consumption, sale and production.
  • Other drugs such as cannabis or heroin are illegal, and producing and selling them is a crime.
  • Possession of less than 10 days’ supply of drugs for personal use is an administrative violation not a crime. If authorities find someone in possession of this amount twice in six-months they are referred to a “dissuasion commission” of health/social workers who decide whether to refer them to health services, impose an administrative sanction (e.g., fine), or take no further action.[3]

  • Alcohol is legal and regulated with rules for consumption, sale and production.
  • Other drugs such as heroin are illegal, and producing and selling them is a crime.
  • Cannabis may be consumed and sold in licensed “coffee shops.”
  • People found with small amounts of illegal drugs are not charged with a criminal offence in many parts of the country.
  • A person may use drugs in supervised consumption services (e.g., supervised injection site).
  • People with substance use issues may be ordered to get treatment instead of a prison sentence.

  • Alcohol is legal and regulated with rules for consumption, sale and production.
  • The production and sale of “party drugs” (e.g., new psychoactive substances) is regulated, however, they have not yet been produced legally for sale.
  • People found with small amounts of other drugs that are illegal (e.g., heroin) may be ordered to attend treatment.

  • Alcohol is legal and regulated with rules for consumption, sale and production.
  • It is a crime to produce and sell illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin or cocaine.
  • The consumption and possession of illegal drugs is not a crime, but people may be fined for consuming illegal drugs in public.

[1] The Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Research Centre (July 2016). Decriminalization of Narcotics.

[2] Canadian Public Health Association (2014). A New Approach to Managing Illegal Psychoactive Substances in Canada.

[3] International Drug Policy Consortium (2015). A Public Health Approach to Drug Use in Asia: Principles and practices for decriminalization.

Drug Laws Around The World

Toronto Public Health would like to thank the members of the Public Health Approach to Drug Policy Steering Committee for their assistance in developing this fact sheet.

April 2018