Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalised all recreational drugs. Drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself remained legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions were deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and were removed completely from the criminal jurisdiction. Drug trafficking continued to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.
The proponents of the War on Drugs predicted rampant increases in drug usage among the young and the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists”.
The actual results proved to be very different. Resources were moved from the criminal prosecution of drug users to providing support and rehabilitation to people with drug dependency problems. Judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success. Drug use of all kinds declined in Portugal. Lifetime drug use among seventh to ninth graders fell from 14.01% to 10.6%. Lifetime heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. HIV infection rates among drug users fell by 17%, while drug related deaths were reduced by more than half.
Meanwhile, here in New Zealand we enact another silly law in the escalation of the War on Drugs, including forcing people with a cold or flu to spread their illness around in a doctor’s waiting room if they want to obtain pseudoephedrine, the most effective symptom reliever.
Green MP Kevin Hague made an excellent speech in opposition to the Bill:
Surely it is time legislators from other Parties took a similar evidence-based approach.