Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Portugal's Decriminalization Success

Over at Forbes, E.D. Kain checks in on Portugal's now decade-old drug legalization experiment. The numbers are pretty impressive:
The number of addicts considered "problematic" -- those who repeatedly use "hard" drugs and intravenous users -- had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, [Joao] Goulao [President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction] said.
I think it is clear that the United States still has quite a ways to go in catching up to Portugal in understanding that drug addiction is a public health problem, not a law enforcement problem. As the AP article explains:
A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.

The panels composed of psychologists, judges and social workers recommended action based on the specifics of each case.

Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.

Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, "the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people," Goulao said.
A legal regime where some recreational drugs are culturally encouraged, and others are classified as serious felonies, strikes me as a really nonsensical arrangement. News like Protugal's continues the case against supporting our expensive, wasteful and socially ruinous regime of interdiction and incarceration.

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