IMAGE VIA NEWPORT BEACH CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Drugs. Let’s decriminalize them. Why? Because we are now living in an era where young people are exposed to drugs earlier than ever before, and these illegal substances surround us, causing more and more of our youth to adopt the dangerous habit of drug consumption. The problem of drug consumption is one that governments are trying to battle, and have been doing so since the sudden boom of drug use during the 1970s. The same question has been asked for years: How can governments reduce drug usage in its youth, the future of our society?
The answer is quite simple, yet highly controversial: Drugs should simply be decriminalized. And how do we know this? Take the example of Portugal, a country whose drug policy far outstrips any other’s. 16 years ago, Portugal made the radical decision to decriminalize all drugs, from marijuana to cocaine. Some may call the resolution absurd, highly risky, or unpredictable in its outcome. However, Portugal’s judgement has proven correct as the move has visibly paid off. This can be attributed to Portugal’s unique model, specifically its use of a dissuasion panel, that has turned the country’s drug situation around. What does decriminalizing drugs look like? Today, Portuguese police no longer arrest anyone carrying what’s deemed to be less than a 10-day supply of an illicit drug (equivalent to a gram of amphetamine, heroin, or ecstasy, two grams of cocaine, or 25 grams of marijuana). Instead, a more progressive approach has been adopted, where drug offenders are ordered to appear before a “dissuasion panel” made up of different psychological experts who will decide if treatment is necessary. Most cases are suspended, unless the individual is frequently brought back (they are then prescribed treatment, which can range from opiate substitution therapy to counselling). This approach is extremely effective; Portugal now lives in a society where drugs have been destigmatized, and problem users seek out care because they no longer feel shame in accepting their behaviour. As a result, the rate of new HIV infections in Portugal has drastically fallen (Portugal allows needle replacements), and overdose deaths decreased from 80 in 2001 (the year the act was passed), to only 16 in 2012. We can compare this with the US, where more than 14,000 people died in 2014 from prescription opioid overdoses alone. Furthermore, Portugal’s drug-induced death rate (3 per million residents) has become more than five times lower than the EU’s averages (17.3).
Now, it must be noted that drugs are still illegal in Portugal. Jail time is still given to drug dealers and traffickers. However, this new way of approaching the situation has drastically reduced legal costs, allowing the nation to focus its resources elsewhere. It is also a way for the individuals to preserve their human rights despite their position as drug offenders, and giving them the opportunity to seek out professional help means that they are less likely to use drugs again due to the psychological care provided. This, in turn, eventually helps the economy as past drug users often seek jobs once they have been given medical care, stimulating the economy as more individuals now have purchasing power. Although quite radical in its format, it is time for countries to take the example of Portugal as motivation and make a change to their drug policies. We are now at a point where drugs are everywhere and present in every demographic (youth, working class, homeless, etc.) Governments must work to rectify this in order to build a path that will lead our global society into a positive future.