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Frederik Polak Cannabis Culture Award Winner 2012

The Amsterdam psychiatrist Frederik Polak has in recent decades developed into one of the most authoritative voices in the social and political debate on drug policy, in the Netherlands and far beyond.

Between 1994 and 2003, Polak was consultant psychiatrist at the drug department of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service. He published dozens of articles about drugs and drug policy and is one of the driving forces behind the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation, the Association for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition and ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies. Each year, he represents these organisations at the UN drugs agency UNODC in Vienna, and in Brussels at the Civil Society Forum on Drugs of the European Commission.

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Thinking about drug law reform: Some political dynamics of medicalization

 Article published in Fordham Urban Law Journal vol. XXVIII october 2000 and at


Many people believe that medicalization offers the most reasonable approach to drug policy because it promises a dignified solution to the conflicting goals of prohibition and humane treatment of addicts[1].The medicalization model, by encompassing in the medical domain some phenomenon or p roblem, allows medical considerations to be decisive in the interpretation of that p roblem and in the choice of measures to resolve the situation. With respect to drug use, medicalization can have a broad range of meanings and consequences. When it means providing normal, good quality medical care to drug addicts, including the prescription of illicit drugs, it should be applauded as a positive development[2].

However, medicalization also may define regular, frequent drug use as a mental disorder; designate abstinence as the only acceptable treatment outcome; and/or recommend compulsory treatment for all users of illegal drugs, be they dependent or casual users. The latter three versions of medicalization demonstrate that, while the medicalization approach for drug policy seems more humane than repression of drug use, it risks becoming a form of repression itself.

Read more: Thinking about drug law reform: Some political dynamics of medicalization