I know this is Todd’s territory here but I found this article on the Portuguese approach to drug policy quite interesting:
“One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion. MDMA — the active ingredient in ecstasy — and amphetamines — including speed and meth — can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram. That’s roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.
“The police still search people for drugs,” Goulão points out. 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.”
In other words, decriminalization. This was passed in 2000, so, they have had this policy in place for about 12 years. Enough time to have some evaluation.
So, what are the results?
“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. What, though, do these numbers mean? With what exactly can they be compared? There isn’t a great deal of data from before the experiment began. And, for example, 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.”
Not bad. The whole idea is to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime.
What is interesting, from the article, is that the opposition to this law and policies is a based not on the possibility that it might actually work but on the moral idea that people should NOT want drugs and should be punished for wanting to use. It is a puritan argument and that is as far as it goes. There is nothing else:
“”It’s important that we prevent people from buying drugs, and taking drugs, using every method at our disposal,” says Manuel Pinto Coelho, 64, the last great opponent of Goulão’s experiment. Pinto Coelho wants his country to return to normalcy, in the form of the tough war on drugs that much of the rest of the world conducts.”
Of course, it is a war on drugs that does accomplish much except filling up prisons and keeping criminal justice systems overwhelmed with low hanging fruits. Perhaps we should have a Gans-type “functions of drug policy” list.
Again, it is not policy, it is moral standing irrespective of the results. It is interesting to have failing policies defined as “normalcy”.