Decriminalizing Drug Use in Portugal: 5 Years Later

While people in the United States endlessly debate what should be done with the country's drug problem, Portugal went ahead and decriminalize the use and possession of illicit drugs 5 years ago.

Here's what the country learned:

In the face of a growing number of deaths and cases of HIV linked to drug abuse, the Portuguese government in 2001 tried a new tack to get a handle on the problem—it decriminalized the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other illicit street drugs. The theory: focusing on treatment and prevention instead of jailing users would decrease the number of deaths and infections.

Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.

Brian Vastag of Scientific American has more on the story: Link

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Way to go Portugal. At least some parts of the world are coming to their senses. A LOT of European policy, like their draconian "Sovio-Nazi" anti-firearm laws are ridiculous, but at least they're smarter than us when it comes to drugs.

Prohibition = epic fail. Every time. Drugs do NOT cause crime. It's prohibition itself that creates the underground drug market, run by gangsters and killers. It's prohibition that creates the Al Capones, the Pablo Escobars, the "Tony Montanas", the killers, and the street gangs. What happened to the Italian Mafia? Well, we ended prohibition, they had to switch to petty scams and racketeering, and they eventually died, ceasing to be a nearly invulnerable and politically influential criminal business entity. If drugs were made legal, their market would collapse overnight. Junkies would be able to enter rehab programs where they can work, and be weaned off the drugs in a reasonable fashion, maybe even get some education. Under prohibition, they're too paranoid to come out of the back ally, and have to steal your air-conditioner compressor at night to get a fix. We'd also be able to prevent diseases that get spread by nasty needles (I friggen hate needles, lol). Or, they can just smoke their crack in their $8 motel room. Why should I care? They're going to do it anyway. Better to just let them do it freely, rather than charge me huge taxes to feed and house them in prison. It would even be cheaper to give them some "welfare crack" (even though I hate the socialist welfare system). Producing heroin and coke is cheaper than digging up dirt, literally...

And Richoux, don't be silly. We have laws for cigarettes, alcohol, and firearms. Laws that keep them out of the hands of children (most of the time). There's no reason drugs couldn't be handled the same way. Say what you want, but kids have better access to drugs now than they do to alcohol and tobacco (both of which are legal, while drugs aren't). Why do you never see teenagers selling cigarettes and beer? Because you can buy it in stores for a very low price; it's impractical. The only reason drugs are expensive is because they are illegal. It's simple economics: supply and demand. Even though drugs are quite abundant, major dealers intentionally create scarcity to drive up profits. If I had 2000kg of cocaine, why should I flood the streets all at once to make just $25 a gram, when I can make it scarce and charge 75? That's exactly what they do. They have full control. It's just like deBeers does with diamonds. It costs a coca farmer just 2cents to produce a kilo, which can sell for over $20,000 in parts of the US. It's madness. If they made Twinkies illegal, I promise you that some people would pay well over $100 a box, to taste of the "forbidden pastry". Look at how the EU taxes cigarettes so harshly. They created a black market for tobacco! Even Cuban cigars are expensive here. Why? Because we made them illegal! It's quite obvious where over-regulation leads. Big governments and strict laws never work. Just ask Hitler and Joseph Stalin... oh wait, Hitler is dead (by his own hand), so is Stalin (mysteriously), and the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 80s (so we think)... :/
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Any increase in drug use will cause an increase in crime. Because the users will need to get the money to use drugs. Or in addition to legalization do you propose giving the drugs away for free?

Also its easy enough to find the statistics on drug use by age. Highest frequency of drug use occurs between 14 and 21 years old. Do we legalize drug use for children? If we dont legalization wont mean much.
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I would question the data prepared by a libertarian think tank. If it were more independent, maybe it'd have a little more credibility in this.
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(to DanielB)I just want to say that I live in Portugal and actualy it's not that prosperous, not that religious and definately it´s not the lattest in "American Dream", far from it... however I like it a lot, I guess it´s some sort of irrational pride, sad but true:) ... Oh! and by the way, I never had realized that thing with legallized use and possesion of drugs, I always thought it was a normal thing, the use and possesion, I guess i've been distracted from the news...
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I have no respect for drug abusers, their attitude and the effect they have on those around them.

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