We Told You So — Portugal’s Drug Legalization

The Vacaville Reporter ran an AP Story by Barry Hatton and Martha Mendoza this morning announcing “Portugal’s Drug Policy Pays Off.” I don’t like saying “we told you so,” but it does feel good to say it after such a long and emotional debate to see the issue play out and prove true.

These days, Casal Ventoso is an ordinary blue-collar community — mothers push baby strollers, men smoke outside cafes, buses chug up and down the cobbled main street.

Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a “drug supermarket” where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneak into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts — some with maggots squirming under track marks — staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.

At that time, Portugal, like the junkies of Casal Ventoso, had hit rock bottom: An estimated 100,000 people — an astonishing 1 percent of its population — were addicted to illegal drugs. So, like anyone with little to lose, the Portuguese took a risky leap: They decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law in 2000.

Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too.

“The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen,” said University of Kent professor Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal’s program. “The answer was simple: Provide treatment.”…

Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.

Here’s what happened between 2000 and 2008:

* There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users such as drug addicts and prisoners.

* Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

* Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

* The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures that show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

* The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Read the whole story here.

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