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Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies


Sep 14, 2010
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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." Because more than seven years have now elapsed since enactment of Portugal's decriminalization system, there are ample data enabling its effects to be assessed.

Link to the article and the report: Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies | Glenn Greenwald | Cato Institute: White Paper

The report concludes "While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems—in virtually every relevant category—have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001. In certain key demographic segments, drug usage has decreased in absolute terms in the decriminalization framework, even as usage across the EU continues to increase, including in those states that continue to take the hardest line in criminalizing drug possession and usage. By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts. "

BBC: Portugal legalizes drugs. Crime/Usage falls.

Video: Revolutionary Politics::Revolutionary Politics : Portugal legalizes drugs. Crime/Usage falls.

As we can see, the arguments for drug prohibition are fairly baseless. Not only would crime rate and usage actually fall, but there would be far more time and resources freed up for real police work [along with concentrating on the top players in the drug trade] and helping addicts. We should already know this though, when we consider that what we have witnessed over the past half a century of 'the war on drugs' and drug demonisation, is basically a long drawn out mirror image of what happened with alcohol early last century.

I actually believe that we'll see Mexico become the first country to leagalise drugs, taking dealers out the game altogether. There's only so long that the mess there can continue without a radical change taking place - the massive problems with drugs is what first led to Portugal's change in stance. And as Portugal has set the precedent for decriminalisation, so too will Mexico set a precedent for legalisation.

People should be free to put whatever they want inside their bodies for recreational purposes. However, those with a problem should be helped and not demonised or imprisoned.
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