All Drugs Have Been Legal in Portugal Since 2001: Did Decriminalization Work?

Portugal & PotInteresting article in TIME from last year. Maia Szalavitz writes:

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.

Read more in TIME

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  • Butter Knife

    It’s never been a matter of working or not… few drugs wind up illegal by mistake, and most are very dangerous and destructive, no policy regarding them can ever be said to “work” unless it makes them vanish altogether… and even then, only for a very narrow definition of ‘work”.

    The question was, is, and continues to be “does it make more sense”? The answer to that question, almost inevitably, is yes… it makes more sense to let adults do what they want to do so long as others are not harmed than it does to try and stop them.

    Drugs become illegal when somebody in power has something to gain, specifically and personally, by making them so. I’ve found that the easiest way to find drug dealers is simply to look at who lobbies the hardest to keep them illegal, and who has the most authority when it comes time to enforce those laws. From there, it’s just about playing 6 Degrees of Financial Separation (although it’s more likely to be a number between 0 and 2 than between 3 and 6).

    • gemmarama

      woah there… make drugs vanish? people have been getting high since the dawn of time. your glorious human consciousness probably owes more to our ancestors’ consumption of natural hallucinogenics than you’d like to think.

      “most are dangerous”? only because they’re illegal, and therefore impure and of wildly varying strength and quality. many doctors live long and healthy lives despite their morphine addictions, as they have access to a reliable, clean supply. most drugs, in their pure and natural form, are not particularly harmful if taken responsibly.

      drugs are not inherently destructive; people can however use them in destructive ways. this is a problem rooted in poverty and social inequality – drug and alcohol abuse are merely symptoms. “few drugs end up illegal by mistake” – you’re right, but don’t kid yourself your government was merely trying to protect you in making them so. there were complex political and economic wranglings behind the prohibition of every illegal “drug”.

      apart from that you’re spot on.

    • http://www.theamericanbookofthedead.com Henry Baum

      Seriously? You’ve found a drug dealer through a tie to a lobbyist? That’s worth an article, not just a passing comment.

      But “all drugs are destructive” seems like the wrong emphasis. Cars are destructive. The sun can be destructive. Drugs are only destructive if abused, Of course, it’s very easy to abuse some drugs, but they are also awesome tools, so they should never vanish.

      • Pantheisticsolipsist

        by drug dealers he means those who are in power of the drug cartels and those financing the black market

  • Butter Knife

    It’s never been a matter of working or not… few drugs wind up illegal by mistake, and most are very dangerous and destructive, no policy regarding them can ever be said to “work” unless it makes them vanish altogether… and even then, only for a very narrow definition of ‘work”.

    The question was, is, and continues to be “does it make more sense”? The answer to that question, almost inevitably, is yes… it makes more sense to let adults do what they want to do so long as others are not harmed than it does to try and stop them.

    Drugs become illegal when somebody in power has something to gain, specifically and personally, by making them so. I’ve found that the easiest way to find drug dealers is simply to look at who lobbies the hardest to keep them illegal, and who has the most authority when it comes time to enforce those laws. From there, it’s just about playing 6 Degrees of Financial Separation (although it’s more likely to be a number between 0 and 2 than between 3 and 6).

  • Steve // Piration

    I don’t know if anyone here knows about Freedomain Radio but he did a video on Portugal’s decriminalization and in the beginning of the clip he drops the word “disinformation” so I figured that meant I was meant to post it here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnZXUzTLBlM

  • Steve // Piration

    I don’t know if anyone here knows about Freedomain Radio but he did a video on Portugal’s decriminalization and in the beginning of the clip he drops the word “disinformation” so I figured that meant I was meant to post it here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnZXUzTLBlM

  • Pantagruel

    Update on the Netherlands’ cannabis policy:

    The preparations for a new hard right coalition government involving Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party are almost finished. One of the proposed measures will be to introduce membership cards for coffee shops, so that cannabis can only be sold to registered members. If this policy is implemented tourists coming to the Netherlands will have to resort to street dealers.

  • Pantagruel

    Update on the Netherlands’ cannabis policy:

    The preparations for a new hard right coalition government involving Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party are almost finished. One of the proposed measures will be to introduce membership cards for coffee shops, so that cannabis can only be sold to registered members. If this policy is implemented tourists coming to the Netherlands will have to resort to street dealers.

  • whatata

    interesting, i think the rational behind it is worth the try. but still they should be careful specially when it involves cocaine,or other the drug that have been associated with violence.for marijuana i think people using it dont need any medical help, that can stop using it at will.

    • fatherdaddy

      I just will myself not to stop.

  • whatata

    interesting, i think the rational behind it is worth the try. but still they should be careful specially when it involves cocaine,or other the drug that have been associated with violence.for marijuana i think people using it dont need any medical help, that can stop using it at will.

  • gemmarama

    woah there… make drugs vanish? people have been getting high since the dawn of time. your glorious human consciousness probably owes more to our ancestors’ consumption of natural hallucinogenics than you’d like to think.

    “most are dangerous”? only because they’re illegal, and therefore impure and of wildly varying strength and quality. many doctors live long and healthy lives despite their morphine addictions, as they have access to a reliable, clean supply. most drugs, in their pure and natural form, are not particularly harmful if taken responsibly.

    drugs are not inherently destructive; people can however use them in destructive ways. this is a problem rooted in poverty and social inequality – drug and alcohol abuse are merely symptoms. “few drugs end up illegal by mistake” – you’re right, but don’t kid yourself your government was merely trying to protect you in making them so. there were complex political and economic wranglings behind the prohibition of every illegal “drug”.

    apart from that you’re spot on.

  • oman28

    This is a good start. The points to remember are that drug use did not increase under this model and that the number of people seeking help for drug addiction doubled. Add to this the fact that less money spent on enforcement allows more to be spent on healthcare and we see something that could be of value to other countries.
    However there are vested interests that must have lost money due to a shrinking market. I wonder what effect these players might have on the implementation of this type of policy in other western countries?
    (as in the last paragraph of butterknife’s comment)

  • Anonymous

    This is a good start. The points to remember are that drug use did not increase under this model and that the number of people seeking help for drug addiction doubled. Add to this the fact that less money spent on enforcement allows more to be spent on healthcare and we see something that could be of value to other countries.
    However there are vested interests that must have lost money due to a shrinking market. I wonder what effect these players might have on the implementation of this type of policy in other western countries?
    (as in the last paragraph of butterknife’s comment)

  • http://www.theamericanbookofthedead.com Henry Baum

    Seriously? You’ve found a drug dealer through a tie to a lobbyist? That’s worth an article, not just a passing comment.

    But “all drugs are destructive” seems like the wrong emphasis. Cars are destructive. The sun can be destructive. Drugs are only destructive if abused, Of course, it’s very easy to abuse some drugs, but they are also awesome tools, so they should never vanish.

  • Word Eater

    From article:
    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.

    You don’t say.

  • Word Eater

    From article:
    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.

    You don’t say.

  • emperorreagan

    This article indicates that basically every negative factor associated with drug use, from HIV infection rates among IV drug users to drug use in general, fell with decriminalization.This intuitively makes sense to me, since I think that:Access to clean needles, treatment, etc. would tend to reduce disease, ODs, and abuse.People will be more likely to take advantage of services to treat addiction or at least mitigate some of the dangers if they can do so without fear of the police.Taking the street level user off the police’s radar allows them to focus solely on the traffickers and dealers – the people that are responsible for most of the violence associated with the illegal drug trade. The focus would also, presumably, reduce the quantities of hard drugs trafficked from distant locations on the streets. I would imagine that it would be easier for casual users/experimenters to avoid becoming long-term abusers because the dynamics of paranoia/secrecy will be reduced without fear of legal repercussions.

  • emperorreagan

    This article indicates that basically every negative factor associated with drug use, from HIV infection rates among IV drug users to drug use in general, fell with decriminalization.This intuitively makes sense to me, since I think that:Access to clean needles, treatment, etc. would tend to reduce disease, ODs, and abuse.People will be more likely to take advantage of services to treat addiction or at least mitigate some of the dangers if they can do so without fear of the police.Taking the street level user off the police’s radar allows them to focus solely on the traffickers and dealers – the people that are responsible for most of the violence associated with the illegal drug trade. The focus would also, presumably, reduce the quantities of hard drugs trafficked from distant locations on the streets. I would imagine that it would be easier for casual users/experimenters to avoid becoming long-term abusers because the dynamics of paranoia/secrecy will be reduced without fear of legal repercussions.

  • Fatherdaddy

    I just will myself not to stop.

  • Earl

    This story needs to be qualified. I’ve heard that drugs are legal only for the Portuguese. Foreigners still face fines.

  • Earl

    This story needs to be qualified. I’ve heard that drugs are legal only for the Portuguese. Foreigners still face fines.

  • Pantheisticsolipsist

    by drug dealers he means those who are in power of the drug cartels and those financing the black market

  • Talmadge613

    idk. i think sticks and stones should be illegal to possess, i mean, a person could take up a stone and kill another person with it… in fact, people have! I rest my case. Stones are immoral… and no sane person can think otherwise. Hail Mary.

  • Talmadge613

    idk. i think sticks and stones should be illegal to possess, i mean, a person could take up a stone and kill another person with it… in fact, people have! I rest my case. Stones are immoral… and no sane person can think otherwise. Hail Mary.

  • Total Noob

    i drink way too much coffee ,should i be locked up?

  • Total Noob

    i drink way too much coffee ,should i be locked up?

    • grooveboss

      yes

  • grooveboss

    yes

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