Want to Decrease Illegal Drug Use? Decriminilize It!
Five years ago Portugal decriminalized all illegal drugs when it comes to personal use. This doesn’t make it legal, but rather this makes the personal use of illegal drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Many U.S. states have similar laws concerning the use of marijuana, Ohio would be an example, but none have decriminalized illegal drugs to the extent of Portugal. Portugal’s decriminalization includes such items as: marijuana, heroine, cocaine, methamphetamine and others. Here we are five years later and the libertarian minded think-tank The Cato Institute has released a report detailing the fallout from this law change - and why the results aren’t what many would have expected.
The exact law change enacted in Portugal removed all jail time for possession of illegal substances intended for personal use and instead required a meeting with a social worker, psychologist, and legal advisor to discuss receiving free treatment - with the ability to refuse treatment without any punishment. The results reported by the Cato Institute are surprising. The amount of illegal drug use amongst teens dropped. The rate of new cases of HIV infection resulting from the sharing of ‘dirty needles’ dropped and the number of people seeking treatment doubled. Time Magazine provides some of the exact numbers:
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.
What this means for the U.S.
Studies like this are very important and should be considered by people on both sides of the aisle. The evangelical right wants to see illegal drug use obliterated - I think this may give them some insight into how best to achieve their goals. After all, “You catch more bees with honey than vinegar”. For the liberal left this puts them one step closer to the complete legalization of ‘controlled substances’. Most importantly, for the libertarians this type of legislation would put us closer to a government that doesn’t inflict it’s will upon the citizenry for things it shouldn’t be allowed to govern and we can start nibbling at fiscal responsibility by recognizing that many Americans don’t want their tax dollars squandered on the imprisonment of people whose only crime is personal drug use.
One thing is for sure - reports like this combined with our current Presidential Administration make a change in illegal substance legislation more likely than ever and that is something libertarians, liberals, and conservatives should all be happy about. This is a situation where I believe we can all win.
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