In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the private use of all illicit drugs, including heroin, cannabis, and cocaine. As long as a person is not found in possession of more than 10 days’ worth of any of these drugs, use and possession is no longer a criminal offense. The main point of the new policy was to focus more on dissuasion, make it easier for addicted users to seek help, reduce the flow of funds to criminal gangs, and to reduce the burden of drug enforcement upon the criminal justice system.
How did they do? Politically speaking the scheme has been a success in that Portuguese politicians, including the current prime minister Socrates, have been bragging about their role in the introduction of this policy. What about the effects on usage and crime? I can do no better than to copy the conclusions of a recent paper on the issue by Hughes and Stevens, two UNSW based Australian researchers:
In the Portuguese case, the statistical indicators and key informant interviews that we have reviewed suggest that since decriminalization in July 2001, the following changes have occurred:
* small increases in reported illicit drug use amongst adults;
* reduced illicit drug use among problematic drug users and adolescents, at least since 2003;
* reduced burden of drug offenders on the criminal justice system;
* increased uptake of drug treatment;
* reduction in opiate-related deaths and infectious diseases;
* increases in the amounts of drugs seized by the authorities;
* reductions in the retail prices of drugs.
Perhaps worth copying here in Australia?