A new Time article entitled, “Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?” examines the practical theory of how decriminalization and use, when applied to a society properly, can have resounding success; and that is exactly what is being praised for the country of Portugal.
First, let me explain the Portugal model and put it into perspective. As we all know, with the exception of thirteen states that have medical Marijuana laws, the sale and cultivation of marijuana is illegal in the United States under both state laws and federal laws. The laws may vary from state to state, but typical first time possession varies from a civil fine to a year of incarceration.
Contrary to what one might hear in the news, in The Netherlands marijuana is also a crime. The difference in The Netherlands is the Dutch have decided not to enforce those laws because it’s in contrast what the people desire. However, when the Dutch decide to go after a particular grow operation or cannabis shop, they have full charge of the law behind them to do as they please.
The Portugal model is the only one of it’s kind in Europe because they were the first European country to remove all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs including marijuana. And they have been completely legal since 2001!
Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%.
The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%.
According to the Time article, a CATO study concludes that Portugal’s legalization program is a resounding success having reduced overall drug use, HIV cases, and cutting addiction rates by half across the board with all hard (addictive) drugs.
This is an extremely unique report because Portugal, unlike other countries, didn’t just “dabble” in decriminalization for a select group or demographic, they simply LEGALIZED EVERYTHING.
Currently in Portugal,
If an individual is caught in possession of a modest quantity of drugs (below ten daily doses), and police have no further suspicions or evidence that more serious offenses such as sale or traffic are involved, the drug will be seized and the case transmitted to a local Commission composed of 3 members (a lawyer, and two from a range of doctors, social assistants, and psychologists), supported by a technical team. The Commission meets the person in order to evaluate his/her situation and with the aim of eventually diverting the person from prosecution or sending them to treatment. If the user presents evidence that use is occasional or regular, but not habitual (addicted), the proceedings are dropped”.
By embracing the idea that a nation’s drug problem is a health and human services issue, not a law enforcement problem, Portugal helped to reallocate financial resources from law enforcement to address the underlying issues of the health effects of addiction. By doing so, Portugal removed the criminal element behind their illicit drug industry.
In contrast, The Netherlands still experiences a measurable amount of crime related to the illicit cannabis (Europeans refer to marijuana as cannabis) market because they still have laws against the manufacture and sale of cannabis. California also isn’t exempt, the state still sees crime as a result of marijuana being an illegal substance (federally and state without proper authorization). As long as the United States has a Prohibition in place, we will continue to battle cartels and crime on all fronts.
Although Portugal is a smaller country, initiatives like those Portugal put into place could also be put into place in this country within our communities.
Like removing a pot of boiling water from the stove; if you remove crime from Marijuana, you wouldn’t have any crime to fight.
Could Portugal’s solution serve as a model to the United States?
Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal’s, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of it’s prisoners”.
Let me simplify Senator Jim Webb’s proposal:
It asks for a National Commission to discuss and propose policy for prison reform.
It’s that simple.
I think it’s finally time to have this conversation. Don’t you? Contact your representative and affirm your support for Senator Webb’s proposal today.