ORIGINALLY POSTED BY Drake Baer, Correspondent For Business Insider:
In July 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.
The possession of small quantities of those drugs was shifted to a public-health — rather than criminal — issue.
And rather than getting arrested for a small amount, you get sent to a “dissuasion commission,” where a doctor, lawyer, and social worker prescribe treatment or give you a fine.
Mic’s Zeeshan Aleem reports that people walk away without a penalty most of the time.
Here’s what the data says about Portugal’s decriminalization:
- Drug-related HIV infections have plummeted by over 90% since 2001, according to the drug-policy think tank Transform.
- Drug-related deaths in Portugal are the second-lowest in the European Union. Just three in a million people die of overdoses there, compared with the EU average of 17.3 per million.
- The number of adults who have done drugs in the past year has decreased steadily since 2001.
- Compared to rest of the EU, young people in Portugal now use the least amount of “legal high” drugs like synthetic marijuana, which are especially dangerous.
- The percentage of drug-related offenders in Portuguese prisons fell from 44% in 1999 to 21% in 2012.
- The number of people in drug-treatment increased 60% from 1998 to 2011 from 23,600 to 38,000.
Portugal’s decriminalization came about because the country was in crisis.
In 1974, Portugal’s dictatorship fell after a coup that became known as the Carnation Revolution. The country soon became flooded with drugs. By 1999, a full 1% of the population was actively addicted to heroin, and the country had the highest rate of drug-related AIDS deaths in the EU.
Shifting drug use from a criminal to a public-health problem was a bid to reverse that trend.
“We figured perhaps this way we would be better able get things under control,” drug policy architect João Goulão told Der Spiegel in 2013. “Criminalization certainly wasn’t working all that well.”
Goulão has been careful to say that you can’t evaluate decriminalization in isolation — it was all part of Portugal’s robust rollout of an expanded welfare state.
Portugal isn’t alone in shifting the war on drugs to something less combative. The Netherlands has a “tolerance policy” of soft drugs like marijuana, which can be sold in regulated cafes. Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize marijuana in 2013, and marijuana is slated to go on sale in regular pharmacies in the second half of 2016. Four US states have legalized recreational marijuana, with Oregon raking in tax money from doing so.