That will never work – decriminalizing drugs

They said it would never come down - Berlin Wall Nov 10, 1991.

They said it would never come down – Berlin Wall Nov 10, 1991.

The nature of being a radical is often people simply dismiss your ideas as things which will never work or could not happen.  Then CIA analyst Robert Gates in the 1980s said that the Berlin Wall would not come down in his lifetime or his children’s lifetime.  Gates who would become Bush 2 and Obama’s secretary of defense was completely wrong.  South African President P. W. Botha said Nelson Mandela would not be released early and apartheid would endure, in a few short years he would be wrong.

An uncomfortable image for P. W. Botha, certainly

An uncomfortable image for P. W. Botha, certainly

I have blogged about how the business press and government leaders predicted terrible blackouts in Japan if it closed all its reactors after the Fukushima accident.  All the reactors are closed, have been for months.  No blackouts.

And we hear endlessly in the US as part of the “war on drugs” that decriminalization is not a solution and will only make a bad situation much worse.  Well, if Portugal is to be any guide, these fearful forecasts are also wrong.  Taken straight from this article:

On July 1st, 2001, Portugal decriminalized every imaginable drug, from marijuana, to cocaine, to heroin. Some thought Lisbon would become a drug tourist haven, others predicted usage rates among youths to surge. Eleven years later, it turns out they were both wrong.

Over a decade has passed since Portugal changed its philosophy from labeling drug users as criminals to labeling them as people affected by a disease. This time lapse has allowed statistics to develop and in time, has made Portugal an example to follow.

What really happened?

  • Number of addicts nationally was cut in half over 11 years
  • Portuguese drug use rates are now some of the lowest in the EU
  • Drug related diseases including STDs and overdoses have decreased more than addictions
A simplification of a complex problem

A simplification of a complex problem

In the US over half our tremendous prison population are serving time for drug related offenses. In Portugal addicts are treated like they have a disease and helped. In the US they are treated like criminals and locked up. Could such a policy work in the US?  Well, we have some powerful examples, like the decriminalization of marijuana in California leading to over $1 billion in saved legal fees for the state, just from minors not being arrested.

Demonstrated failed solutions.  But nothing else is possible.

Demonstrated failed solutions. But nothing else is possible.

But my forecast (being clearly connected to absurdity of prediction) is that we are within a decade of seeing widespread legalization of marijuana in the US.

And the next time someone tells you decriminalization can’t work, tell them about Portugal, where it already is.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

9 responses to “That will never work – decriminalizing drugs”

  1. Keenan Dakota says :

    Very inspiring! Thanks, Paxus.

  2. Kip Gardner says :

    Of course, the predominance of reactionary politics at present argues that there needs to be a significant sea-change in the way Americans view their government before we see progress on this or any other issue. Given that the dominant class is putting all its media, political and economic resources behind preventing just such a sea change, its hard to predict just how this will shake out.

    • Logan says :

      I agree, and would like to add one thought about another facet. The business community has a buddy that is always there to support it: the religious right. Seems to me there is pretty good focus on the wrongs of The Chambers of Commerce, ALEC, etc., but that not enough attention is paid to the crazy preachers with Leer jets and their own universities. In this “Cultural War”, few average people will get an urge to go to the polls and vote along with business, but they will head to those polls if their clergy tell them to.

  3. moonraven222 says :

    Hey Pax,

    Thanks for alerting me to this. I’ve looked into it–the situation in Portugal is a little more complex than you imply. Here’s an article that goes into more detail:

    And here are some quotes from the article:

    “‘The police still search people for drugs’ …. Hashish, cocaine, ecstasy — Portuguese police still seize and destroy all these substances.

    “Before doing so, though, they first weigh the drugs and consult the official table with the list of 10-day limits. Anyone possessing drugs in excess of these amounts is treated as a dealer and charged in court. Anyone with less than the limit is told to report to a body known as a ‘warning commission on drug addiction’ within the next 72 hours.

    “The data show, among other things, that the number of adults in Portugal who have at some point taken illegal drugs is rising. At the same time, though, the number of teenagers who have at some point taken illegal drugs is falling. The number of drug addicts who have undergone rehab has also increased dramatically, while the number of drug addicts who have become infected with HIV has fallen significantly. … the number of adults who have tried illegal drugs at some point in their lives is increasing in most other countries throughout Europe as well.”

    It seems that carrying less than 10 days worth of drugs is “still illegal in Portugal … but using these drugs is nothing more than a misdemeanor, much the same as a parking violation.” The consequences are “Warnings, reminders and invitations to rehab”. But dealing is treated as a criminal offense.

    It’s a bold experiment, nevertheless. It also looks like Uruguay is on the verge of another one by possibly becoming the first country in the world to make it legal to grow, sell, and smoke marijuana.

  4. Michael says :

    It is often when the scales have already tipped, that people will scream the loudest and cling the tightest to old ways and ideas. The drug war was long ago lost and the prohibition is once again crumbling. It will take some time for those most attached to those ideals to let go.

  5. Lane says :

    The only problem is, if the country decriminalize drugs, where will the government spend the billions in decreased budgets and increased tax revenue. Congress may be forced to spend money in ways that help the poor and the population in general. How could that ever work out to be a good thing?

  6. Logan says :

    In the mid 1980’s, I went to a lecture I’ll always remember. Diplomat Malcolm Toon gave it. He’d been the US ambassador to the USSR. He stated that we shouldn’t expect change to come to the Soviet Union for at least 50 years. He said there would have to be a newer generation, or two, of Russian leaders before change would come. I think it was about 5 years later that the USSR voluntarily ceased to exist.

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