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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal Works

There are many countries around the world known for having relaxed illegal drug laws, not because it is not criminal offense to consume them, rather, the laws are simply not enforced. In the last ten years there have been some countries who have decided to decriminalize illegal drugs as long as the person found with them had a small amount. Intent to distribute drugs is still frowned upon and is illegal. Just last year, Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. However, Mexico was not the first country to head down that road; most people are unaware that in 2001, Portugal became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs - not just marijuana; even hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine were also decriminalized as long as they were for personal use.

Portugal's national commission, which is charged with dealing with the drug problem throughout the country, recommended jail time be exchanged for the offer of substance abuse treatment for addicts. According to TIME, "Under Portugal's new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail". There are a number of people who feel that decriminalizing drug use would open a Pandora's Box, addicts would inevitably flood the country and there would be a rise in tourists who would go to Portugal just to use drugs. However, new statistics show something completely different and, apparently decriminalization has helped the country in a number of ways.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, released a report in April with positive findings. "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". The goal, at the end of the day, is to provide as many addicts as possible with the option of treatment which ultimately opens the doors of recovery. The Drug War raging throughout the western countries has failed and only exacerbated the problem to epic proportions, addicts overpopulate jails and prisons costing more tax payer dollars and increasing the addicts' chances for recidivism. Addicts need treatment, not prison!

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%.
  • More Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.
  • Rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%, while drug use in older teens also declined.
  • Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group).
  • New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003.
  • Deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half.
  • The number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040.
  • Money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

What are your thoughts on decriminalization in America?

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