A new study by Glenn Greenwald (yes, the same Glenn Greenwald), sponsored by the Cato Institute, concludes that Portugal's decriminalization of drugs has been a big success and has led to none of the negative effects that opponents predicted. Here's how it works in Portugal:
On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were "decriminalized," not "legalized." Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.
While other states in the European Union have developed various forms of de facto decriminalization -- whereby substances perceived to be less serious (such as cannabis) rarely lead to criminal prosecution -- Portugal remains the only EU member state with a law explicitly declaring drugs to be "decriminalized."
And how it's working:
Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents -- from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists" -- has occurred.
The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies -- such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage -- have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens -- enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization...
The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.
There hasn't been any big jump in drug use, as critics always predict. Portugal hasn't become a haven for drug users. The number of people dying from overdoses has gone down, more people are getting treatment and the number of people infected by sharing needles has dropped significantly.
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