Portugal’s Successful Drug Policy

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession of small amounts of all illicit substances. Having small amounts of drugs is no longer a criminal offense. When I say all, I mean all! So Heroin, cocaine, Crystal Meth and Cannabis were degraded from criminal activities and demoted in status to a social ill.

Now this is not to say that it is legal to possess and do drug in Portugal, but what it does mean is that you will not be criminally punished for doing it. Portugal shocked many countries with the implementation of this policy and 10 years later they finally have some data to show its effects.

In Portugal’s thoroughly re-envisioned drug policy, police officers now issue citations — but do not arrest — persons found in possession of small amounts of illicit substances. People who receive these citations are ordered to appear at a “dissuasion commission,” an administrative panel that operates outside of the criminal justice system. The panel, with two health practitioners and one legal practitioner, examines the individual’s circumstances and determines whether to make treatment referrals, issue fines or impose other non-criminal penalties.

Decriminalization in Portugal actually helped reduce the stigma around drug use (without increasing it) and made drug use less politically difficult to talk about. It encouraged better collaboration between law enforcement and service providers, and allowed law enforcement to focus on large-scale traffickers, resulting in increased seizures of commercial quantities of illicit drugs.

Results show that in Portugal reported drug use is down by more than half compared to the period before implementation. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients.

“I really don’t care if people use drugs. I don’t want them to suffer from it. There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said João Goulão, president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction at a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

Portugal is one of the first countries in the world to have re envisioned the struggle against drug use. By using innovative and humane techniques, they have managed to create a system that aims to improve and not cast aside the very real issue of drug abuse. Now War on Drugs will ever be successful. Stats show that over 70% of all prisoners in US jails are there on a drug related offence. How many does that cost the tax payer? And does it actually work? The numbers are no doubt close to what we see here in SA.

I don’t see any decrease in the number of drug related crimes. The effects of it are felt by everyone. Rich, poor, Black and White it doesn’t matter. Maybe its time South Africa also reviews its stand point?

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