Time for a Fresh Start on Drug Policies

The alternative to adopting new and progressive policies on drugs is more prisons and the marginalization of even larger numbers of Taiwan’s youth

Amid talk of constitutional reform and experts’ evaluations of drug laws in an era of surging substance use and jail overcrowding, the time has come for Taiwanese society and officials to engage in intelligent debate on the subject.

According to government statistics the No. 1 cause of death in Taiwan for the past 31 years has been cancer, with lung and liver cancers leading the way.

Of the top 10 causes of death in Taiwan, year after year, alcohol and tobacco — two legal drugs — played a role. Together, they knock into a cocked hat any other possible cause of death. It has been stated that even if by some miracle Taiwan were to become” tobacco free,” there would still be 200,000 smoking-related deaths over the next 20 years. In 2012 the FDA announced that the top 5 drugs abused in Taiwan were (with the exception of the legal drugs of alcohol and tobacco, which kill vastly more Taiwanese than any other drug) Heroin (62.8%), Meths/Amphetamine (31.1%), Ketamine (5%) followed by Zolpidem (a prescription medicine) and Ecstasy. Apparently abuse of sleeping pills and other prescribed, legal, drugs is also becoming more prevalent.

There was no mention, by the way, of cannabis. I won’t call it marijuana because that was a joke name invented to rhyme with Tijuana to make it sound more Mexican. Indeed I could not find a single case where it is accepted by reliable sources that cannabis was responsible as the sole and only cause of death, anywhere in the world.

To read, then, that in Taiwan, “Legislators defend the current policies, arguing that addiction, namely to heroin, the deadliest and the island’s most abused drug, is poison to the economy,” befuddles the mind. Clearly it is alcohol and tobacco that pose the biggest problems to the nation’s health and economy. Is there then something we are not aware of in considering this lack of logic? Maybe heavy lobbying by the alcohol and tobacco industries on Taiwanese legislators, government officials and decision makers is the reason. We could look at the record, but unfortunately there is nothing to loom at because the “past six years of records held by the Ministry of Justice’s Agency Against Corruption show that while there are more than 700,000 records of civil servants receiving gifts, attending banquets and being asked to lobby on government project cases, other than receiving gifts, the Presidential Office and the Executive Yuan have made no such declarations of gratuities.” So we don’t know.

Like almost everywhere else around the world, Taiwan’s drug policies are not based on harm reduction through science-based fact. Instead, they are based on politics and supported by ignorance. The drug categories are wrong and need to be reviewed. Certainly cannabis, a Category 2 drug, is a lot less harmful than Ketamine, a Category 3 substance. Of course cannabis is also a lot less harmful than the legal drugs of alcohol and tobacco. Often my Taiwanese friends say to me, “Yes, but you are from the West. We here in Taiwan, we don’t have a history of drug culture and of our leaders being involved in drugs, unlike yours.”

But as usual, the facts say otherwise. It is a historical fact that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was involved in drugs and gangs since its inception. Indeed, up until recently, the KMT was involved in the drug trade on an industrial scale in South East Asia and did so for decades.[1]

Indeed archaeologists tell us that the first documented use of cannabis in the entire world occurred right here in Taiwan, 10,000 years ago![2]

Those who think that “Chinese society” is conservative and “anti drugs,” and that it is only a problem for the “decadent West” should think again. Next door, China is cashing in on cannabis and holds most of the world’s patents for it.

For Taiwan to alleviate and more efficiently deal with drugs, it should adopt better, more intelligent, science-based policies to counter the harm that drugs do (with alcohol and tobacco once again topping the list). At a time of scarce resources and bulging overcrowded prisons, Taiwan should not be sending armies of its youth behind bars as it is nowadays. Building more prisons won’t work. Yet Taiwan does not need to re-invent the wheel: For best practices, look to Sweden, where they actually closed four prisons, not because their crime rate fell, but because they looked more intelligently at alternatives to incarceration.

The economic case for a radical rethink is obvious. A recent report titled “Ending the Drug Wars” by the London School of Economics (LSE) Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy stated in its summary that, “It is time to end the ‘war on drugs’ and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis.” I note that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen obtained her PhD in Law from the LSE. One might I hope that she take note of what her alma mater has to say on the subject and incorporate some of those findings into her policies.

It is largely accepted that the judicial system in Taiwan is broken. In March 2013, a group of 10 independent international experts reviewed Taiwan’s human rights record and made a number of recommendations. Among them were that the courts should reduce the too harsh prison sentences imposed on first-time, non-violent, drug offenders. The group also noted that Taiwan had signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which among other things outlaw the death penalty and underline the rights of defendants to have prosecution witnesses present at their trial. Yet the courts here still largely ignore these conventions, which have been incorporated into domestic law.

The outside world is moving on. With the recent decriminalisation of cannabis in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington State, coupled with the already liberal policies existing in Portugal, Holland and elsewhere, Taiwan should re-assess its “War on Drugs” policies. It has become widely accepted that the whole “War on Drugs” has been a failure. For some 40 years, vested interests around the world have compelled governments to engage in prohibition, which, just like the prohibition against alcohol (or prostitution or spying), was never going to work. It has cost the world trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives and failed utterly to control, regulate and rehabilitate.

Most people, at least those who have access to the right information and know the facts, are beginning to realise the terrible harm being done to their own society by these failed policies. For example a recent study in the U.S. found that almost 50% of black males and 40% of white males had been arrested by the age of 23. Yet the hypocrisy and double standards of government are painfully apparent, such as in the cases involving HSBC and the U.K.’s alcohol and tobacco industries.

No drug is completely risk-free; all come with different levels of risk. But how societies choose to deal with them must be based on science, not emotion. Again, decisions on the matter should be based on scientific facts, not rumors.[3]

But there are also benefits. The use of medical cannabis is widespread and growing. Now that it is becoming decriminalized, more research is taking place. There must be families in Taiwan who would benefit from knowing this. I believe it is criminally incompetent of the medical profession not to help people (especially children) who may benefit from this natural, age-old (and perhaps even originally Taiwanese) plant.[4]

In conclusion, I would urge people to educate themselves about the facts. I would hope that Taiwan’s decision makers will have the intelligence and strength of character to take positive, science-based steps forward. The alternative, which is happening now, is for people to ignore the problem and build ever more prisons and marginalize even larger numbers of Taiwan’s youth. As Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  1. For more information, see http://www.amazon.com/The-Secret-Army-Kai-shek-Warlords/dp/0470830182, http://thediplomat.com/2012/06/taiwan-and-the-mob/, and http://www.takaoclub.com/opium/postjapan.htm

  2. See also http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/history/first12000/1.htm

  3. For the best resources on all drugs, see  http://www.drugscience.org.uk/ and


  1. For more information, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/charlottes-web-marijuana_n_4261935.html, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAFu-Ihwyzg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPKDkPZyE-o, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNjZqzmNiAc and http://www.cnbc.com/id/36022433

A.R. is a former foreign diplomat based in Taipei.

8 Responses to “Time for a Fresh Start on Drug Policies”

February 05, 2015 at 4:02 am, 李艾迪 ((イーライ) Mr. Lee) said:

If in-fact the Republic of China’s Taiwan is the origin or agricultural as Carl Sagan postulated.

If in-fact agricultural enabled modern sedentary society as we know it today.

If in-fact the USA and the People’s Republic of China are legalizing and patenting Cannabis medicines.

Then a dialog must be started regarded the end of Cannabis Prohibition in the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Taiwan’s textile industry uses cotton and synthetics because Cannabis fiber is not available any longer.

If in-fact the Republic of China is so concerned about the possibility of the drug potential of Cannabis the specifics of that drug potential verses the fiber benefit must enter the dialog. Japan’s stance is “Cannabis for Rope not dope.

A wise person might also wish to consider that the control of the means of production seems to have been the real barrier to cannabis. In the past anyone purchasing cannabis flowers received viable seeds which allowed them to have uncontrolled, unmonitored ability to produce their own cannabis flowers without paying taxes to the government. Today, cannabis flowers are sold as a seedless product. Commercial seeds are feminized (desirable female cannabis plants have cuttings made of them, the cuttings are turned male by being treating with colloidal-silver to produce (genetically female) pollen so the desirable female cannabis plants can bread with themselves) so that control of the means of production is firmly held in the hands of the government. Legal drugs like Alcohol and Tobacco (both of which are deadly to humans) are profitable to governments because the means of production is, likewise, firmly held in the hands of the government.

Perhaps, a wise reader may still be strongly against cannabis’ drug potential. Fair enough, Japan produces drug free cultivars to produce fiber (again, closely scrutinized by the government) and their Emperor still wears clothes made of cannabis fiber to this day. Lastly, people in Taiwan and around the world value Cannabis food 七味唐辛子 and fiber 麻.

Post script: Taiwan’s native weed Humulus japonicus freely interbreeds with Cannabis, why not produce a food and fiber plant that could be grown in landslide prone areas to protect the environment and produce a commercial product?



February 06, 2015 at 2:21 am, 李艾迪 ((イーライ) Mr. Lee) said:

What does “Taiwan’s native weed Humulus japonicus freely interbreeds with Cannabis” mean?

Wild Cannabis, commonly known as Marijuana, is found growing unchecked all over the island of Taiwan.

To those who say: “No, Humulus japonicus is just a troublesome weed not the drug called WEED or POT…”

Marijuana was prohibited when anti Cannabis sativa laws were put into place around the world.

In 1972 an important court ruling in the US affected world attitudes and laws when it ruled that there was no Cannabis indica only Cannabis exists. Because of the ruling Cannabis indica was reclassified as a Cannabis sativa Subspecies. The rational was that if a Species of plant could produce viable fertile offspring with a plant of the Species Cannabis sativa then it must be Species: Cannabis sativa. The differences between what were originally distinct Species were pushed aside as a new taxonomy was borne. Cannabis ruderalis and Cannabis indica became Cannabis sativa ssp. ruderalis and Cannabis sativa ssp. indica in order to maintain the validity and enforceability of Cannabis sativa prohibitory laws.

In reality, nature knows no fences. Species as different as Lions and Tigers produce viable fertile offspring. And, so while it is a widely accepted “FACT” that separate “Species do not produce viable fertile offspring” it is simply untrue. Humulus yunnanensis, Humulus japonicus, and even Humulus lupulus can all reproduce with Cannabis sativa and produce viable fertile offspring. And so, I suppose legally Taiwan is covered in Marijuana in the form of Cannabis sativa ssp. japonicus.

Lastly, since Taiwan was once inhabited by separately evolving groups which continued to interbreed to some extent, up to and until “Marijuana Prohibitionists” eradicated the domesticated hemp-like Cannabaceae on the island but what were the hybridization affects to the long-term genetic make-up of the remaining non-hemp-like Cannabaceae group here? Might researchers discover our useless weed Humulus japonicus has useful medical qualities or should we simply push on with the War on Drugs and destroy the evil Cannabis sativa ssp. japonicus without bothering to research anything?


August 18, 2015 at 8:35 pm, Tyr said:

Excellent article. Inspiring to see someone speak up about this issue here in Taiwan. I’ve been living here for years now and truly love it here, but I do miss how easily available cannabis is in my home country. It really would be such a good thing for Taiwan with rampant alcohol, pharmaceutical, tobacco, and even betel nut abuse. Why not just provide a safe alternative that benefits multiple aspects of society?

Unfortunately, even if there is no international restriction hampering Taiwan from pursuing legalization or starting medically at least, I just don’t see the lame duck politicians really making as move on it anytime soon short of large waves being made internationally to move things forward.

Is there anything that can be done really to try to raise awareness and improve the situation at all do you think? I feel that as friendly and open as Taiwan is, cannabis is one of those issue that Taiwanese are stubbornly willfully ignorant about generally speaking and aren’t even interested in hearing about it. At least in my small sample of local friends.

Anyway, cheers on such a great article.


December 19, 2015 at 2:09 am, Jim said:

Lol you are lecturing us on incarceration? You know what Sweden has been through right?
If you want to persuade us into legalizing weed learn from this guy:
Now you also know what is going on in Sweden.
Children are freaking gang-raped and only some of the the criminals sentenced about 2 years in frigging hotel rooms while other people released free of charge. They even had a bloody discount for raping more children. They had a one of the highest sexual harassment rate in EU, along with Denmark.

In Sweden, rape crimes conviction rate is only 3 bloody percent, while the crime rate itself (63 per capita) and relapse rate (around ten percent) is sky high. Furthermore, 58% of rapist are strangers. While In Taiwan, indictment rate is 53 percent, and the conviction rate is around 89 percent, so timing them together you get a final conviction rate of around 48%. That’s still 16 times more than Sweden. Relapse rate is around 3.7% and only around 20%of the rapist are strangers.

The most insane thing is that the first thing the left politicians do in Sweden is find excuses for it instead of finding out WTF is going on. Taiwan is so freaking safe that I can walk on the street at midnight without worrying about being gang-raped. I’m happy of our laws and incarceration.


December 19, 2015 at 1:43 pm, Tyr said:

Sweden’s sky rocketed rape levels are unfortunately a direct consequence of taking in many refugees and immigrants from a completely different culture, and they’re too afraid of being considered racist to properly police it.

Rape and drug policy have nothing to do with eachother. It’s actually been proven again and again that healthy drug policies prevent drug related crime almost entirely. Even the most hardcore addicts aren’t looking to hurt or cause crime, they’re just ill out of their mind and need a fix. When there are healthy programs in place to allow them to seek help and not fear being arrested for it, they overwhelmingly do seek said help.

If you’re going to try to argue that drug users will rape or commit crime, guess what, bud? The drug that causes these actions far, far more than any other is alcohol. Taiwan’s favorite.

I’m not calling for alcohol to be banned, nor am I saying every drug should be handed out for free. What people want is a healthy and realistic approach. To treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not a criminal one.


December 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm, Tyr said:

None of anything you linked has anything to do with drugs and drug policy though.


December 19, 2015 at 6:03 pm, Jim said:

I wasn’t even want to debate with you, I just can’t see why a person can be so ignorant at the first place(using Sweden as example, pfff) and saying other people is ignorant.

Lol didn’t the man in the video clearly tell you
“Sweden loves rapist regardless of skin colors”
Once again you has proven how pseudo-intellectual you are.

I actually don’t hate weed that much. Tbh as a lover of Swedish culture, I actually want Sweden to legalize weed in their country after I watch his excellent explanation. I’ll also probably try one joint if I happened to be in the Netherlands.
I just hate most of you pro-weed activists love trying to twist the truth so much and keep saying other people ignorant, while not being so smart yourselves.

People here don’t want weed. We already know that two of the most deadliest drug, namely tobacco and alcohol is killing our people now, so why the heck would you want to add another both financial and well-being(clearly that cannabis does damage your health, that’s scientifically proven, just not as dangerous as other substances) burden to our people, while only about 0.3% of our population, mostly criminals and has tried other illegal drugs, has ever use cannabis here in Taiwan? Or you somehow naive enough to think that using cannabis as a substitution for tobacco and alcohol is possible? Like you can just ban these stuff by saying it.

Whenever you guys using “tobacco and alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, so we should legalize marijuana as recreational drugs” as a excuse to justify yourselves, it feels like saying “oh, we already have two major bad habits, so let’s grow another less harmful one, because eff it, right?”. 100% logical.

And God’s know whether if the cannabis and alcohol or tobacco will have some kind of complications if used together.

Even if we held a referendum here the results would be a completely Nay. Even with that being the case you still want our government to forcefully legalize marijuana? That would be a tyranny against democracy. SMDH.


December 19, 2015 at 6:35 pm, Tyr said:

No one is saying, “FORCE TAIWAN TO LEGALIZE, FORCE EVERYONE TO SMOKE WEED ALL DAY EVERYDAY!” What proponents of cannabis are saying is, “This is drug is almost entirely harmless to adults, and has the potential for serious medical benefit. Why don’t we end the ignorance around it and allow it as an OPTION?”

I don’t care if Taiwan never legalizes, when I lived in the states I’d only occasionally smoke on holidays with friends that enjoyed it. I never drink, and I never use tobacco or any other drug. I’d never expect a foreign country or culture to bend to the will of my own. All I’m saying is that at this day and age, no intelligent person can say that weed is harmful. Legalizing it and taxing it just allows safer access and lets a state or country receive taxes rather than allow drug dealers/growers to profit. I know several people here that smoke, both Taiwanese and foreign. Again, I don’t join them because I know that it’s illegal here and is much less accepted. I respect that and wouldn’t want to end up in legal trouble or deported.

All I would suggest is to begin speaking honestly about it rather than holding the same old propaganda that’s been scientifically and medically proven to be false.

I totally understand where you’re coming from and respect your opinion, I’m just also sharing mine.


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