Portugal Drug Decriminalization after 10 Years

Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010

By any metric, Portugal’s drug-decriminalization scheme has been a resounding success. Drug usage in many categories has decreased in absolute terms, including for key demographic groups, like 15-to-19-year-olds. Where usage rates have increased, the increases have been modest — far less than in most other European Union nations, which continue to use a criminalization approach.

Portugal, whose drug problems were among the worst in Europe, now has the lowest usage rate for marijuana and one of the lowest for cocaine. Drug-related pathologies, including HIV transmission, hepatitis transmission and drug-related deaths, have declined significantly.

Beyond the data, Portugal’s success with decriminalization is illustrated by the absence of political agitation for a return to criminalization. As one might expect for a socially conservative and predominantly Roman Catholic country, the decriminalization proposal sparked intense controversy a decade ago.

Many politicians insisted that a vast parade of horribles would be unleashed, including massive increases in drug use among youth and the conversion of Lisbon into a “drug haven for tourists.”

But none of those scary scenarios occurred. Portuguese citizens, able to compare the out-of-control drug problems of the 1990s with the vastly improved situation now, have little desire to return to the days of criminalization. No influential politician advocates doing so.

Whatever one's views on liberalizing drug laws, our debate should be grounded in empirical evidence — not speculation and fear-mongering.

Glenn Greenwald, Politico, October 14, 2010, http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=A73C7532-E19F-B885-12BA1F5F235FE2FA