The Swiss have legalised the prescription of heroin to addicted users. The measure apparently has 68% Swiss community support although 63% oppose the legalisation of cannabis.
This move is poor policy since it reduces the user cost of heroin to addicts and therefore reduces their incentives to cease using. To the extent there is any inelasticity in supply of illegal heroin it will reduce the price and increase the incentives to use of new users. It will reduce the heath costs faced by the given pool of addicted users but - to the extent that demand curves slope downwards - will create a larger pool of users who will be exposed to lower risks. Even if supply is perfectly elastic - so Swiss users face an internationally given price - those selling illegal supplies face increased incentives to secure new users. At best new users face no immediate increased incentives not to use but increased incentives by virue of the fact that new users now have a low cost escape into government-provided heroin should they become addicted.
Those in the drug treatment industry will cheer at this legalisation partly because it secures the size of their long-term client base. The policy will fail to resolve the heroin abuse problem since it leaves unaddressed the usage incentives faced by new users. It simply ensures that existing users remain so.
Supporters will say that abolishing these laws reduce health and law enforcement costs. The first point is unclear for reasons advanced above while the second argument applies to any criminal activity. It is only sound if heroin use is considered victimless. I don't.