The verdict is in. Portugal decriminalized* drug use and possession in 2001, including heroin and cocaine. Fourteen years later, heroin addiction rates have been cut in half and the number of drug-related deaths has been cut by 75%. The fear that decriminalization would cause an increase in so-called drug tourism never materialized.
In his white paper** analyzing the effects of decriminalization in Portugal, Glenn Greeenwald concludes,
None of the fears promulgated by opponents of Portuguese decriminalization has come to fruition, whereas many of the benefits predicted by drug policymakers from instituting a decriminalization regime have been realized. While drug addiction, usage, and associated pathologies continue to skyrocket in many EU states, those problems—in virtually every relevant category—have been either contained or measurably improved within Portugal since 2001. In certain key demographic segments, drug usage has decreased in absolute terms in the decriminalization framework, even as usage across the EU continues to increase, including in those states that continue to take the hardest line in criminalizing drug possession and usage.By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts. Those developments, along with Portugal’s shift to a harm-reduction approach, have dramatically improved drug-related social ills, including drug-caused mortalities and drug-related disease transmission. Ideally, treatment programs would be strictly voluntary, but Portugal’s program is certainly preferable to criminalization.The Portuguese have seen the benefits of decriminalization, and therefore there is no serious political push in Portugal to return to a criminalization framework. Drug policy-makers in the Portuguese government are virtually unanimous in their belief that decriminalization has enabled a far more effective approach to managing Portugal’s addiction problems and other drug-related afflictions. Since the available data demonstrate that they are right, the Portuguese model ought to be carefully considered by policymakers around the world.