Monday, April 27, 2009

Portugal Pointing The Way Towards Drug Decriminalization For The U.S.?


The new issue of Time makes a good case for the decriminalization of drugs. After the Carnation Revolution (1974) finally brought about the fall of the right-wing dictatorship (Estado Novo) of António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal went from being a backward fascist hellhole to a modern and prosperous society. So modern in fact, that in 2001 Portugal "became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine."

Drug users get an offer of therapy instead of prison. It's voluntary for individuals and, for the state, therapy is far less expensive than incarceration.
The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to "drug tourists" and exacerbate Portugal's drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

...[T]here is a movement afoot in the U.S., in the legislatures of New York State, California and Massachusetts, to reconsider our overly punitive drug laws. Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal's, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.

And, as we've mentioned before, Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) have introduced marijuana decriminalization laws in the past, the latest in 2008-- with Jim McDermott (D-WA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), William Clay (D-MO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), as co-sponsors. Here's Glenn on Reason.TV:

Here's a clip from the actual CATO conference, a much more extensive and thorough look at the problem-- and the solution:

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal (Cato Institute: Policy Forum)

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At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe we should decriminalize drug possession and usage in the US so that the FDA can guaranty the purity of the new set of legal drugs in this country. And the government will get taxes on them.

We as a people will still have to be responsible for our actions. If you drive while you're high (DUI) you will still get the same penalties you do today, minus the possession.

There will be no suing the bad ol' pharmaceutical company that sold you the hot coffee – I mean the drugs that caused you to burn yourself or someone else, since I doubt that you will be able to sue the shell organizations that the cartels will create to legally get their drugs in the country. If they create any such organizations at all... they have their supply lines set up, no inspections and tax free.

Someone needs to stop the bastards who go into our national forests and plant drug crops, then use DDT and other banned chemicals to raise them, polluting our lands and streams at the same time.

Of course there is another side, in this case the demand side. We in the US have a HUGE appetite for “entertainment” drugs. I bet that I wouldn't have to look far to find someone who had an Earth Day party complete with drugs, to hell with the planet.


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