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  1. #1
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    Default Drug decriminalization in Portugal: Did it work?

    This is taken from an article at Time. Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? - TIME

    Pop quiz: Which European country has the most liberal drug laws? (Hint: It's not the Netherlands.)

    Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled "coffee shops," Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don't enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

    At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal's drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? 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.

    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, (which can be found here Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies | Glenn Greenwald | Cato Institute: White Paper in all it's 38 page glory) 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.

    The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; 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, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

    Portugal's case study is of some interest to lawmakers in the U.S., confronted now with the violent overflow of escalating drug gang wars in Mexico. The U.S. has long championed a hard-line drug policy, supporting only international agreements that enforce drug prohibition and imposing on its citizens some of the world's harshest penalties for drug possession and sales. Yet America has the highest rates of cocaine and marijuana use in the world, and while most of the E.U. (including Holland) has more liberal drug laws than the U.S., it also has less drug use.

    "I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else does [decriminalize] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn't having much influence on our drug consumption," says Mark Kleiman, author of the forthcoming When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment and director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA. Kleiman does not consider Portugal a realistic model for the U.S., however, because of differences in size and culture between the two countries.

    But there 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.

    At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it's based on "speculation and fear mongering," rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country's number one public health problem, he says.

    "The impact in the life of families and our society is much lower than it was before decriminalization," says Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual's "drug czar" and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, adding that police are now able to re-focus on tracking much higher level dealers and larger quantities of drugs.

    Peter Reuter, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Maryland, like Kleiman, is skeptical. He conceded in a presentation at the Cato Institute that "it's fair to say that decriminalization in Portugal has met its central goal. Drug use did not rise." However, he notes that Portugal is a small country and that the cyclical nature of drug epidemics — which tends to occur no matter what policies are in place — may account for the declines in heroin use and deaths.

    The Cato report's author, Greenwald, hews to the first point: that the data shows that decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Since that is what concerns the public and policymakers most about decriminalization, he says, "that is the central concession that will transform the debate."
    An interesting article to say the least.

    I haven't read the CATO paper but I may.

    I think that the last point Greenwald makes is the most important.

    I hope this fosters an engaging debate.

  2. #2
    Senior Member StrawMan's Avatar
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    the data shows that decriminalization does not result in increased drug use. Since that is what concerns the public and policymakers most about decriminalization, he says, "that is the central concession that will transform the debate."
    Legalize it!

  3. #3
    THIS bitch stringstheory's Avatar
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    i think the facts speak for themselves, and i don't have much to contribute other than a good, short read on the problem in America to recommend: Drug War Addiction (9781888118094): Sheriff Bill Masters.

    Sheriff Bill Masters fought in the drug war for years (he even received an award for his work from the DEA) before realizing it was just making things worse, and in his book he shares the experiences that led him to this conclusion. has a new book out that he edited called The New Prohibition, but I haven't read that yet.

    Additionally, these articles: Johann Hari: The Only Thing Drug Gangs and Cartels Fear Is Legalization
    David Henry Sterry: Mexican Drug Lord Officially Thanks American Lawmakers for Keeping Drugs Illegal
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  4. #4
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    I think the comment Greenwald makes about "speculation and fear mongering" hits the nail on the head when describing the U.S. drug war.

    At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it's based on "speculation and fear mongering," rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies.
    In a crippling recession, we as a Country should take a look at our sentencing policies and the efficacy of our interdiction efforts.

    Can we continue to down approx. 25k a year for every non-violent drug offender?

  5. #5
    Senior Member Beargryllz's Avatar
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    Criminalize everything
    Criminals everywhere

    Decriminalize everything
    LoL what crime?

  6. #6
    ^He pronks, too! Magic Poriferan's Avatar
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    Interesting. They said that crimes for possessing drugs have been abolished. Near the end of the quoted article mention is made of taking on high level dealers.

    My question then is what the full extent of drugs laws in Portugal is like. Is it still illegal to deal drugs even if it is not illegal to possess or use them? What of trafficking? They said it's easier to deal with large uses of drugs, but in what way? Is that also strictly medical, or are their still quantity based laws against drug use?

    I should go look this up myself, I guess.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Shimmy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Poriferan View Post
    Interesting. They said that crimes for possessing drugs have been abolished. Near the end of the quoted article mention is made of taking on high level dealers.

    My question then is what the full extent of drugs laws in Portugal is like. Is it still illegal to deal drugs even if it is not illegal to possess or use them? What of trafficking? They said it's easier to deal with large uses of drugs, but in what way? Is that also strictly medical, or are their still quantity based laws against drug use?

    I should go look this up myself, I guess.
    Decriminalization is changing a law so that things will no longer be punishable. Legalization is changing a law so that things are actually allowed.

    The subtle difference, in the Portuguese example from the article, is that drug users still fall under the justice system, but rather then send them to prison, they are offered the choice to a life without drugs. Needless to say the Portuguese are smarter than the Americans in realizing individuals don't actually want a life of crime, poverty, illness and secrecy.

    I'm almost certain that in Portugal dealing drugs is still illegal. Drug use can hold negative effects on individuals and society, and there is a big difference between making effective, functional policy and allowing such a risk factor as drugs.

    Weird thing is, in Mexico, famed for it's war on drugs, possession for personal use is decriminalized as well. The high death toll in that country is a direct result of the Mexican government and the drug cartels fighting each other over control of the drug flow to the U.S. In that way, the U.S. policy has a devastating effect on the public safety in Mexico. This applies also in Colombia, but at least the U.S. army and military intelligence agencies helped taking out Pablo Escobar in that country.
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  8. #8
    Order Now! pure_mercury's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shimmy View Post
    Decriminalization is changing a law so that things will no longer be punishable. Legalization is changing a law so that things are actually allowed.

    The subtle difference, in the Portuguese example from the article, is that drug users still fall under the justice system, but rather then send them to prison, they are offered the choice to a life without drugs. Needless to say the Portuguese are smarter than the Americans in realizing individuals don't actually want a life of crime, poverty, illness and secrecy.

    I'm almost certain that in Portugal dealing drugs is still illegal. Drug use can hold negative effects on individuals and society, and there is a big difference between making effective, functional policy and allowing such a risk factor as drugs.

    Weird thing is, in Mexico, famed for it's war on drugs, possession for personal use is decriminalized as well. The high death toll in that country is a direct result of the Mexican government and the drug cartels fighting each other over control of the drug flow to the U.S. In that way, the U.S. policy has a devastating effect on the public safety in Mexico. This applies also in Colombia, but at least the U.S. army and military intelligence agencies helped taking out Pablo Escobar in that country.
    From what I understand, selling small amounts doesn't get jail time, either, but that is still illegal. I think drug importation and large-level distributing are still being investigated actively. And usage levels have remained level, with a decrease in OD's and rates of drug-related infections.
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  9. #9
    Don't Judge Me! Haphazard's Avatar
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    Well, we have an interesting question, here, though -- if the US did go the whole hog and legalize drugs, up to and including licensing sellers, monitoring quality control, and taxing them, what would the drug lords do?
    -Carefully taking sips from the Fire Hose of Knowledge

  10. #10
    Senior Member Lateralus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Haphazard View Post
    Well, we have an interesting question, here, though -- if the US did go the whole hog and legalize drugs, up to and including licensing sellers, monitoring quality control, and taxing them, what would the drug lords do?
    They would try to stay in the business, possibly even getting more violent for a while, but legitimate corporations would eventually run them out of the business (they'd have no chance of competing against a company like Wal-Mart). Organized crime would see a drastic reduction in revenue.
    "We grow up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they're really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because "strength of belief" is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you've made it a part of your ego."

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