No one knows who wrote the laws of physics or where they come from. Science is based on testable, reproducible evidence…
Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not.
Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
As the last post noted, Portugal has legalized drugs. They did so in 2001. Therefore, we now have 15 years of data on what has transpired. It behooves us to examine that data.
It is important that my readers understand that Portugal also waged a fierce war against drugs (Footnote). They didn’t just one day decide that drug legalization was a good idea. They went through the same heart wrenching circumstances we have and came to the conclusion that a course change was needed.
What does their law mandate? If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. In the vast majority of instances, there is no penalty.
As I have stated in my last post, my plan not only legalizes the possession of drugs (only those drugs purchased through that resident’s state) but mandates that they are produced under supervision of the states and sold in state controlled stores. (And, no, I’m not a communist or socialist. I’m still a laissez faire capitalist. But the solution to this problem needs state intervention.)
[Source: 14 Years After Decriminalizing Heroin, Here’s What Portugal Looks Like (crime rate drops as thefts for drug money diminishes and drug gangs go out of business). By Zeeshan Aleem]
Here are some of the results:
- The total number of people using drugs in Portugal has fallen by more than a third. (In 2001, critics worried that drug addiction rates would skyrocket. As noted, they have fallen substantially and heroin addiction rates have decreased to an even greater degree. They have been cut in half.)
- HIV infections have also been cut in half, while the number of drug-related deaths has been cut by 75%.
At first, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the proportion of the population that reports having used drugs at some point saw an initial increase after decriminalization, but then a decline:
Lifetime prevalence means the percentage of people who report having used a drug at some point in their life, past-year prevalence indicates having used within the last year, and past-month prevalence means those who’ve used within the last month. Generally speaking, the shorter the time frame, the more reliable the measure.
Of perhaps greater importance, drug use has declined overall among the 15- to 24-year-old population. There has also been a decline in the percentage of the population who have ever used a drug and then continue to do so:
In another key measure, drug induced deaths have fallen dramatically.
The HIV infection rates among injecting drug users have been reduced at a steady pace, and has become a more manageable problem in the context of other countries with high rates.
Portugal saw a decrease in imprisonment on drug-related charges alongside a surge in visits to health clinics that deal with addiction.
It is not my position that drug legalization is a panacea. But we must begin where we are, not in some hypothetical construct. We are spending enormous amounts of money to interdict illegal drug sales. Drugs are more plentiful than before the interdiction. The War on Drugs has set the stage to cultivate the most powerful crime syndicates in modern history. They are brutal and sufficiently well funded that they can wage war against Mexico, a nation with an army, tanks and helicopters, and with reasonable success. The Portugese experiment shows us, at least, that drug legalization does not produce the catastrophe that some suspect.
Footnote: [From the Aleem article]
In 1974, the dictatorship that had isolated Portugal from the rest of the world for nearly half a century came to an end. The Carnation Revolution was a bloodless military-led coup that sparked a tumultuous transition from authoritarianism to democracy and a society-wide struggle to define a new Portuguese nation.
The newfound freedom led to a raucous attitude of experimentalism toward politics and the economy and, as it turned out, hard drugs.
Portugal’s dictatorship had insulated it from the drug culture that had swept much of the Western world earlier in the 20th century, but the coup changed everything. After the revolution, Portugal gave up its colonies, and colonists and soldiers returned to the country with a variety of drugs. Borders opened up and travel and exchange were made far easier. Located on the westernmost tip of the continent, the country was a natural gateway for trafficking across the continent. Drug use became part of the culture of liberation, and the use of hard narcotics became popular. Eventually, it got out of hand, and drug use became a crisis.
At first, the government responded to it as the United States is all too familiar with: a conservative cultural backlash that vilified drug use and a harsh, punitive set of policies led by the criminal justice system. Throughout the 1980s, Portugal tried this approach, but to no avail. Drug-related AIDS deaths in the country were the highest in the European Union.