Monday, April 06, 2009
Portugal teaches the world a lesson about decriminalisation
The prohibition debate really is over. A comprehensive report from the Cato Institute examines the results of Portugal’s 2001 decriminalisation of all drugs (including all the ‘hard’ ones).
None of the dire warnings of right-wing panic merchants have eventuated. To the contrary, drug use has remained stable or even reduced, particularly among school-aged people. The adverse health consequences of drug abuse including overdoses and sexually transmitted diseases have also reduced significantly. HIV/AIDS rates among drug users have been slashed. Deaths from opiates have dropped by more than half.
Resources have been shifted from policing drugs to education and prevention programs. That's ironic as ‘prevention’ is the current buzzword of the prohibitionists.
PS 29/April/09: Well, the debate is never really over because some people simply believe in prohibition regardless of the facts. The Wall Street Journal has run a debate, To Legalize or not. The pro-legalisation piece (rather, pro-decriminalisation as it turns out), runs what to me looks like a solid, logical line, briefly noting Portugal’s experience after decriminalisation.
For balance, the WSJ also ran an anti-legalisation essay but it collapses in the second paragraph with the statement “What would America look like with twice or three times as many drug users and addicts?”. It argues that law enforcement had reduced crack and meth use by 60%, ignoring swathes of statistics that show drug use and the number of addicts has not changed much in decades. It also ignores worldwide comparisons that generally show drug use to be on the high end in the prohibitionist countries. It's clever but it’s still tripe.
Even if the number of addicts did increase under decriminalisation, it wouldn't look so bad as the criminal element would have been eliminated from the equation. Prohibitionists however, with their black-and-white viewpoint, can't imagine such a complex scenario.