Sunday, September 20, 2009

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal is Working

The evidence from Portugal since 2001 is that its decriminalization of drug use and possession has produced many significant benefits and almost no harmful side-effects. Ten facts about Portugal's experience:

1. There is little evidence of drug tourism: 95% of those cited for drug misdemeanours since 2001 have been Portuguese.

2. The level of drug trafficking, measured by numbers convicted, has declined.

3. The incidence of other drug-related sexually transmitted diseases has decreased dramatically.

4. Deaths from drug overdoses have also decreased dramatically.

5. The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programs has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use).

6. Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%.

7. Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis.

8. Heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups.

9. The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17%.

10. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before.

Bottom Line: In contrast to the dire consequences that critics predicted, a Cato Institute study concluded that "none of the nightmare scenarios initially painted, from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for drug tourists has occurred.”

~The Economist


At 9/20/2009 9:55 AM, Blogger Bret said...

I'm all for drug decriminalization, but what works for a tiny, homogeneous country like Portugal may not apply to a huge, diverse country like the United States.

At 9/20/2009 10:16 AM, Blogger Tim Worstall said...

Well, on number one, it's made very clear to visitors (and remember please, that I live in Portugal)that the relaxed laws do NOT apply to visitors.

As to the rest of it, yes, sure sounds good to me. More countries should do it.

As I say, I live in Portugal and yes, there's quite a bit of large scale smuggling (Morocco is a fishing boat away) but as for actual usage that you se, I see less of it than I did on a recent 6 month contract in London.

At 9/20/2009 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole idea that my taxes should be raised so someone in government can lockup a productive citizen who happens to prefer a little pot or coke rather than alcohol after work is ludicrous. This whole situation is going to get worse now that the court has held that a person acquitted of a drug crime can still be sentenced to jail for that crime.

At 9/20/2009 1:57 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Ha! ha! Forgive me if I'm skeptical of the Keynesians at The Economist that see more rainbows than rain clouds with their rose tinted glasses...

Is it the complete picture?

Compare the Nation Master stats: Portuguesse crime stats vs US crime stats...

What struck me most about Lisbon is how similer it looked to St. Louis, Mo in parts...

At 9/20/2009 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The war on drugs has always been a joke. As much as Democrats like to pretend that the laws of economics do not apply; republicans on the drug issue are just as delusional. When you restrict supply the price goes up; thus drawing more people into the business. This business only strengths criminals of all kinds. Fuels leftists in Latin America and fuels gang wars in the U.S.

Decriminalizing drugs should tried because the war on drugs is a failure.

At 9/20/2009 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need some Family Values Republicans to get out front on this.

At 9/20/2009 4:46 PM, Anonymous Terrelle Pryor said...

I am glad that they are running the test experiment instead of us because I don't want the medical laws in California to creep across the country and allow young kids to fry more cells than they already are.

At 9/20/2009 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I consider myself a liberal, but I still need some convincing that blanket legalization of narcotics would have positive results. I admit that I have known more than my fair share of hard-core junkies in my life. I find it hard to believe that any company could legally manufacture crystal meth or LSD that could compete with street products.

I must take exception with the idea that the War on Drugs is primarily a "Republican" issue. It was John Kerry and Chris Dodd that were the leading advocates of using the military to oust Manuel Noriega from Panama. John Kerry even went so far as to propose using using military bases slated for closing as detention centers for first-time drug offenders.

This Reason article is a good start.

At 9/20/2009 5:18 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

I wonder what would happen if speed limits were repealed? Would everyone drive at speeds according to their driving abilities, and therefore traffic accidents would be reduced?

Drug use may be reduced, to some extent, by making it legal and taxing it (i.e. raising price), except if the price is too high, it'll be sold on the black market.

Japan knows how to win "the war on drugs."

At 9/20/2009 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BS. There are many places in the US where drugs have been de facto if not de jure decriminalized. Drug use is rampant in these places and destroying lives of users, their friends, family, and innocent bystanders.

Any time a government, particularly a socialist government, passes a policy, the government seldom if ever declares it a failure. They cherry pick the data, ignoring the consequences, to claim credit.

At 9/20/2009 5:41 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Here's some info on gambling. U.S. states with legalized gambling "win" at the expense of non-gambling U.S. states:

"Under U.S. federal law, gambling is legal in the United States, and states are free to regulate or prohibit the practice. Gambling has been legal in Nevada since 1931, forming the backbone of the state's economy, and the city of Las Vegas is perhaps the best known gambling destination in the world."

At 9/20/2009 6:07 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

"1. There is little evidence of drug tourism..."

A drug user in Texas would likely move to another state, e.g. California, to continue his drug use than stay in Texas.

At 9/20/2009 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm shocked to see how many people on a libertarian leaning blog actually support the war on drugs.

At 9/20/2009 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Swiss will give heroin to long term users as a last resort on a prescription basis. This reduces crime 66% according to a study. So other european countries are also thinking differently about drug usage.
The goal is to truly make drug usage a victimless item.

At 9/21/2009 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Anon(9:02P) "I'm shocked to see how many people on a libertarian leaning blog actually support the war on drugs."

I'm shocked that anyone could read through these comments and construe even one of them as support for the War on Drugs.

At 9/21/2009 5:23 PM, Blogger Kat said...

"...but what works for a tiny, homogeneous country like Portugal may not apply to a huge, diverse country like the United States."

True, Bret. But what we have now isn't even close to "working".

At 9/23/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Richard Rider said...

One important point on the Portugal example. The importation and sale of these drugs is still illegal. That means the buyer still has to pay a risk premium for the product. That premium raises the price of the illegal substance to many times what its free market price would be.

That leads to addicts still committing crimes to get their favored drug -- primarily theft, prostitution and small scale dealing.

True decriminalization removes the substantial risk premium jacked into the price of illegal drugs, and largely eliminates the drug-related crime seen from current prohibitionist efforts.

At 9/23/2009 4:20 PM, Blogger Richard Rider said...

Here's a column I wrote a couple years ago on this topic.

Some reasons to legalize drugs

Some people feel that the solution to the drug problem is to become like Iran and other totalitarian countries -- crack down hard on drugs (and porn and deviant sex habits and on and on). Institute a death penalty for users and sellers, and repeal the Bill of Rights where drug violations might be involved.

Perhaps they are partially right -- kill a few hundred thousand people, institute a police state, and perhaps we can significantly reduce drug use in our society. But the country will not be the America that our Founding Fathers envisioned in 1776.

Furthermore, I doubt that we can put the genie back in the bottle -- drugs are here as we have far too many users out there already. Malaysia has the drug death penalty and still has over 300,000 addicts getting their product. After all, if we can't keep drugs out of our prisons, how do we ever plan to keep drugs out of the whole country?

But even if it would work, I would oppose such an approach. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who are willing to sacrifice freedom for security will end up with neither.

As a parent of boys who grew up in today’s society, I had the same concerns that all thinking parents have for their children and the temptation of drugs. I know that my children have been approached by drug dealers in school. But I also know that no one sidled up to my kids and tried to get them to buy a pack of Marlboros, or a fifth of Jack Daniels. Why? Because there is no excess profit in dealing in legal drugs, even though they are illegal for minors to use.

The key to understanding the drug problem is to realize that the huge profits (a 12,000% markup in cocaine, for example) are the direct result of prohibition. Most of the problems we ascribe to the “drug problem" are really the problem of drug prohibition. A $1 a day drug habit becomes under prohibition a $100 a day habit, and crime will inevitably result on both the buyers' and sellers' part.

There are only three ways most drug addict can afford to pay the high prices of illegal drugs:

1. You can sell your body. The major cause of prostitution -- male and female, teenage and adult -- is drug addiction.

2. You can steal from others. When I debated County Supervisor George Bailey on the Roger Hedgecock radio show (about the jail sales tax), Mr. Bailey said that 80% of all property crime (mugging, robbery, burglary and car theft) in San Diego is committed by drug addicts trying to get money for drugs. The lowest figure mentioned by law enforcement agencies is 40%, and 60% is normal for urban areas.

3. This third method is perhaps the most harmful of all -- become a member of a perverse version of a multilevel drug marketing system. Become a dealer, sell to your friends and expand the drug problem.

We should end this madness. Let's legalize drugs and eliminate such problems. We will still have the very real medical and social problem of drug abuse. Utopia is not an option. But look at the benefits of drug legalization:

1. Drastically reduce property crime (burglaries, auto thefts, muggings and commercial robberies). Estimates start at 40%.

2. Greatly reduce the corruption of our law enforcement people.

3. Relieve our overburdened court system.

4. Relieve the overcrowding in our jails. Our country now provides the highest per capita incarceration of any country in the world, passing the 2,000,000 prisoner level in early 2000.

At 9/23/2009 4:21 PM, Blogger Richard Rider said...

(part two)

5. End the routine drug shootings of dealers and bystanders over turf wars and drug deal rip-offs. You don't see 7-11 owners shooting it out with AM/PM shareholders over who gets to sell alcohol at an intersection.

6. Destroy the multilevel marketing scheme that fills our schools and playgrounds with children selling drugs.

7. Destroy the power of the hoodlum gangs and drug lords.

8. Reduce the desperate acts of prostitution to acquire overpriced drugs.

9. Greatly reduce the overdoses from ingesting unknown purities cut with unknown materials. An estimated 80% of the nation’s 3,500 annual illegal drug “overdose” deaths are caused by these two factors.

10. Reduce the spread of AIDS and other diseases from sharing scarce prohibited needles.

11. Return to a respect for the Bill of Rights with its support for the 2nd Amendment, due process and privacy in one’s personal life. Gun owners are starting to understand that perhaps the greatest danger to their right to keep and bear arms is the hysteria connected with the drug war.

12. End government's Big Brother monitoring of our e-mails, our travels and our financial transactions under the guise of seeking “drug money."

13. Reduce our international balance of payments problem.

14. End the onerous action of asset forfeiture -- the confiscation of property from suspected drug users and dealers (i.e. minorities with a lot of cash) without even charging them with a crime, let alone convicting them.

15. End our inadvertent funding of the communist movements in Latin America (our drug money is used to buy protection for the drug lords and farmers in South America).

16. End our meddling in other countries' affairs in our vain attempt to curtail drug imports to the U.S. Significant savings to future military budgets should result, not to mention avoiding casualties from such conflicts and the increasing risk of a nuclear, biological or chemical warfare reprisal against our cities.

17. Allow companies to design safer, less potent drugs. Note the drop in potency in the “legal” harmful drugs -- alcohol and tobacco. Illegal drugs, however, become even more potent since a more compact product is easier to smuggle and carries no greater penalty if caught.

18. Stop persecuting people for private actions that, while they may harm themselves, do not directly harm others.

Understand, with this freedom will come increased responsibility for one's actions. We Libertarians come down hard on drunk drivers and others who first harm others and then claim diminished capacity. No “Twinky defense” would be allowed. One would face both criminal penalties and restitution responsibilities if one harmed others.

At 11/20/2009 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Decriminalization is a start but the money still goes to the illegal drug dealer. And the street violence & other shit doesnt stop. The goverment could milk money from weed as it does for alcohol and tobacco with our "sin tax". But the laws are based on political reasons instead of scientific facts.
This is why i think each country should have an organisation of professors/scientist/advisors who decide the drug-laws independent from the goverment, to avoid political reasons to affect the decision of the laws.

At 12/11/2009 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drug decriminalization is great and all, but it doesn't solve the issue of violent crime related to trafficing or restrict youth access to drugs. Only when all drugs are legalized, taxed and regulated will dealers stop killing each other and aggresively marketing their products. Drugs are widely available in schools accross the country, simply because they are illegal, not because their use is a criminal offense. It may be tempting to veto this logic as taboo, but consider what you would do if you were a bootlegger. If the penalty to you as distributor is not materially different for selling beer than whisky, which do you sell? The same goes for the relationship between hard drugs and soft drugs. That is not to say hard drugs like cocaine or heroin should be widely available. A sate prosecutor wrote the following opinion on legalizing hard drugs to the Boston Globe in November of 2008, when MA was voting to decriminalize cannabis, a soft drug: users should have to register with local police in order to buy hard drugs. That way if a heroin addict knocks over a 7-11 the cops know who did it. They should also be targeted for treatment after registering, so that they know the option is both safe and open to them. As to all you people ranting about socialism, I hope your God remembers what you're saying now when you try to collect social security later.


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