Monday, May 25, 2009

Portugal: A Case Study in Drug Decriminalization

drug, war, treatment, addiction, portugal, US, america,
Oddly, the Netherlands is not the European country with the most liberal drug laws: Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, is.

How has that worked out for Portugal? (Keep in mind, about 1 out of 4 people in jail right now in the US are imprisoned for nonviolent drug charges. The US has 5% of the world's drug users, but 25% of the world's drug related prisoners.)

Really well. (from

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%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well.

Amazing, when you stop criminalizing drug addiction, people actually get treated for it. Who could possibly have imagined that?


  1. This sort of thing reveals what may be a significant difference between right-wingers and left-wingers on social issues. What right-wingers do is focus on supply: kill drug lords, defoliate half of Colombia, etc. What left-wingers do is focus on demand: treat drug addiction, provide education, etc. It nearly goes without saying that in this case the demand-side approach is far more successful.

  2. I did not know that about Portugal (though I always suspected that you'd get the results they did if you decriminalized drugs)

    Good find!

    I think the same can be said for the sex trade and any other 'vice' - let people make their own choices, save the money you would have wasted trying to stop them and spend it on those who need help.

    Honestly, sometimes people are just idiots.

  3. THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    this county will never learn, i fear. maybe i should move. except i only do legal drugs... but our drug laws and enforcement offend me.

  4. This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 5/26/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  5. Intervention services do not always end up successful, but they do have a high success rate of at least 85%. As such, each member of the intervention group is provided with drug intervention training to prep


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