Defying Western perceptions, however, the Middle Eastern nation recently announced its plans to move toward decriminalizing drugs in order to combat addiction and weaken the power of drug traffickers. If the plan receives final approval, the country will join a handful of other nations that have opted to help addicts rather than punish them.
The Independent reports that “[b]y allowing the government to give out diluted drugs to addicts, the proposal aims to cut the relationship between drug addicts and drug traffickers.”
The plan would allow the government to distribute methadone to addicts in place of heroin, cannabis, and other commonly used drugs in Iran. It would also allow the government to provide addicts with diluted forms of these commonly used drugs to help wean them off the substances.
Hassan Norouzi, a spokesperson for the Parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission, said that in order to undermine the relationship between addicts and traffickers, “we decided that the government hand out diluted drugs to addicts, so that they will be able to give up their addiction gradually and, instead of being drawn to drug-traffickers, turn to the Establishment and meet their needs through official channels,” Iranian government-approved outlet IFPNews reported.
“These drugs include methadone and substances more diluted than previous ones, and the authority to decide on that rests with bylaws which are to be jointly drawn up by the Ministry of Justice and [Iran’s] Drug Enforcement HQ, and which could come into effect after getting the all clear from the Cabinet,” Norouzi said.
Norouzi noted that “The plan to distribute [low-grade] drugs is similar to what used to be implemented before the [1979 Iran’s Islamic] Revolution.”
IFP reports that Norouzi said “all relevant authorities have given the go-ahead to the proposal,” though it has not been finalized.
The Independent reported that “The judicial committee has also proposed a draft law halting the death penalty for carrying and distributing less than 100kg of traditional drugs such as opium or less than two kilograms of synthetic drugs.”
Iran has employed militarized anti-narcotic measures against traffickers in the past, even while showing some sympathy to addicts. Human Rights Watch previously reported that authorities often obtained forced confessions for traffickinf and also imposed the death penalty on indivuals possessing large quantities of drugs.
The latest measures come in response to skyrocketing rates of addiction in Iran in recent years, particularly in regard to opium. According to Iran’s Drug Control Organization, there are roughly 2.8 million people in the country consistently using drugs.
Despite Western perceptions that Iran is country doomed to the dark ages, some of its relatively progressive stances on drug addiction prove otherwise. In 2015, Maziyar Ghiabi, an Iranian-Italian Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University discussed rumors that the Iranian government would legalize cannabis and opium.
“This is an actual possibility but not in the short term,” Ghiabi, who focuses on drug policy and use in Iran, told Salon two years ago.
“One institution is really discussing measures to regulate the drug market. By regulation of the drug market, we can mean many different things. One of the ideas is to allow certain substances, in this case cannabis and opium, to be used under specific circumstances. It hasn’t been clearly stated what these circumstances are. What is interesting to me is that the discussion is open. It is a very interesting fact that in the Islamic Republic such discussions are taking place.”
Though Iran is far from completely ending its war on drugs — and its government is indisputably repressive in a variety of ways — its openness to a more lenient policy mirrors some Western nations like Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001, and parts of Canada, where injection centers have been established to allow addicts to consume drugs like heroin in safe environments. The Iranian government already has some 8,000 rehab clinics that offer methadone treatment for opium addicts (however, it has been reported that addicts are tennis forcibly admitted to these clinics and arrests still occur).
Norouzi said the Judicial and Legal Commission will continue work to finalize the latest policy change.