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Drug Freedom Index

"The man who knows what freedom means will find a way to be free."
-F.A. "Baldy" Harper

Update April 2014: We are pleased to announce that the 2014 Drug Freedom Index data has been released!

Welcome to the Free Existence Drug Freedom Index.  This index represents drug rights (that is, the legality of drug usage, possession, and sales) worldwide, scored by individual country (although see comment on federalist systems, below).  This index is a rough guide to drug tolerance and drug laws around the world, and was first created in 2008 for inclusion in the Free Existence Freedom Index, a freedom meta-index which was limited by the lack of a comprehensive resource for the quantification of worldwide drug freedom.

Current index data
Download the latest 2014 index in Excel (.xls) format or OpenOffice (.ods) format

Past index data
Download the 2011 index in Excel (.xls) format or OpenOffice (.ods) format
Download the 2009 index in Excel (.xls) format or OpenOffice (.ods) format
Download the 2008 index in Excel (.xls) format or OpenOffice (.ods) format

Scale used by the Free Existence Drug Freedom Index:
Explanation of scale: Criteria:
10.0                  Hard drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine) are legal to possess and use
9.0                   Both hallucinogenics and hash are generally legal, in addition to marijuana
8.0                   One of the group consisting of hallucinogenics and hash is generally legal, in addition to marijuana
7.0                   The sale of non-medical marijuana is allowed
6.0                   Personal possession, use, or cultivation of marijuana is allowed
5.5                   Drugs are generally illegal, but medical marijuana is unofficially allowed and personal use/possession is unofficially tolerated (e.g., through a sequence of fines for repeat offenders which does not lead to jail time)
5.0                   Drugs are generally illegal, but medical marijuana is officially allowed	
4.0                   Drugs are generally illegal, but medical marijuana is unofficially allowed or personal use/possession is unofficially tolerated (e.g., through a sequence of fines for repeat offenders which does not lead to jail time)	
3.0                   Drugs are illegal, with fines for possession (3.0 indicates some public pot smoking in select locations)
2.0                   Drugs are illegal, with an imprisonment penalty for possession (2.0 to 2.5 indicates an intolerant society wherein usage is not generally overlooked by police/must hide pot/hash use)
1.75                  Drugs illegal, with a death penalty on the books, but which is not applied
1.0                   Drugs are illegal, with a death penalty is on the books
Margin of error (as of 2014 data): +/- 1.5 index points due to reliance on several anecdotal references (due to lack of availability of complete, English-language primary legal sources for many countries)

Question: How does the Drug Freedom Index handle countries with a restrictive law governing issue X, but with very low or non-existent enforcement of that law?

Answer: We rank countries with restrictive, but ignored, laws on the books slightly lower than countries without such laws.  However, such disparities do bring up a difficult question, and one which we frequently grapple with.  In a world of perfect data availability, we would be able to take day-to-day enforcement trends into account and factor them perfectly into the index score for a given country.  However, this presents a variety of real-world challenges.

First, it is arguable that a jurisdiction that is free only because of lack of enforcement of a certain set of laws does not have stable, enduring freedom.  In many such cases, it may be unwise to count on the executive branch continuing to overlook scofflaws.  Tomorrow, that same circumstance may be used to selectively prosecute political enemies of the state.  (This is why we never score a nation with a death penalty on the books for drug offenses above a 1.5 out of 10.0, no matter how lax enforcement is.)  Further, such a condition may be a sign of arbitrary and capricious enforcement or excessive discretionary power in the hands of law enforcement officials, which in any case is not an equitably distributed form of freedom.  Naturally, the degree of corruption in the country's law enforcement also comes into play when trying to predict how free the citizen is to act.

Secondly, it is extremely difficult to quantify enforcement in a given country at any given time.  We operate with limited financial resources, and even if it were possible for us to come up with a reliable and objective inter-country measure of something as subjective (and culturally-dependent) as a perception of frequency of enforcement of a law, it would probably require travel to many far-flung countries to conduct first-hand interviews of statistically significant samples of the population to create this type of perception-based index.

The 2011 Drug Freedom Index does have limited reliance on anecdotal/perception data for some nations, both because there can be large rift between official and unofficial policies in this area, and due to the limited availability of complete, English-language, primary legal references.  Aside from the "soft" nature of such anecdotal references, another potential problem they raise is that such reports often come tourists from English-speaking countries, and such visitors may have drastically different law enforcement experiences than the average citizen or permanent resident of a given country.  All citations are provided, and the reader is invited to make his or her own judgements about the validity of the sources.

Question: How do the Drug Freedom Index assess countries operating under federalist systems (e.g., the EU, the USA, etc.)

Answer: Coming up with an accurate quantitative value for the laws in any federalist system presents a slight challenge. To understand why, imagine that a fictitious country is comprised of 50 states operating semi-autonomously under a single federal government.  Further, imagine that this country has no restrictions on drug possession at the federal level, but drug possession is heavily regulated by each and every one of the state governments.

One possible approach might be to quantify only the laws of the federal government.  However, the resulting index score would be misleading; the country's index would indicate that it was one of the most free countries in the world with regard to drug rights, and yet a person who moved there would be unable to realize anything close to this chimeric freedom score.

Another approach might be to simply compute each rating based on the most free state within the country.  This is also problematic; one state may allow unlimited possession, sale, and use of drugs, and yet that same state could have a 50% income tax rate on top of a federal income tax.  Once we try to combine scores for the two issues into an average, we again have a chimeric basket of liberties that would be impossible to realize for someone seeking to live there.

The ideal approach would be to individually analyze each state's laws, and then compute indices for the nationally binding laws of the federal government plus the laws of the state government.  This is a very labor-intensive approach, and data relating to the laws of all the various states, territories, and municipalities around the world would be difficult to come by, let alone analyze and score.

Since the research team at Free Existence has limited financial and human resources at present, we plan to selectively break out exemplary states with particularly high or low degrees of each type of freedom, and then only when we have convenient access to relevant legal texts.  Yes, this is a bit of a cop out, and we apologize for that.

Question: Is there a way to view and/or sort the Drug Freedom Index data without downloading the spreadsheet?

Answer: Yes, you can interact with the Drug Freedom Index data using the Freedom Meta-Index.

Question: Where is the 2010 and 2012 index data?

Answer: Due to budget constraints, the Drug Freedom Index only undergoes a major update every two to three years.  However, legislative changes that have occurred since the Drug Freedom Index was created in 2008 have a year associated with them in the spreadsheet, e.g., "As of October 2010...", and thus interested parties could reconstruct intermediate year data using the two adjacent years' indices.

Reminder: All contents of this site, including translations, are automatically copyrighted by virtue of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.  Fair use exceptions do apply to the Freedom Index, and scholastic dissemination is encouraged!