Portugal decriminalizes drugs; world doesn’t end

When most of us hear about “legal” drugs in Europe, we think of the Netherlands and its capital Amsterdam, where permissive drug policies and smoke-filled “coffee shops” attract tourists from around the world. (Even Rick Steves!)

What most people don’t know is that in 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize all drugs– including cocaine and heroin– in an experiment that’s now being hailed by many as a rousing success.

According to Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, who is fluent in Portuguese and spent months in Portugal studying the effects of decriminalization, several things have happened since 2001:

  • Drug use among teens has declined
  • Rates of HIV infection from using dirty needles has been cut by 17%
  • Portugal has had the lowest rate in Europe of lifetime marijuana use for people over 15
  • Deaths resulting from heroin and similar “hard” drugs have been cut in half
  • Drug-related crime and violence has been down
  • There’s been a massive increase in the number of people seeking drug treatment
  • Rates of lifetime drug use among 7th to 9th graders went from 14.1% to 10.6%

Most importantly is what did not happen: There was no increase in overall drug use, and Portugal did not become a destination for drug-seeking tourists.

Greenwald writes: “The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.”

What do you think, Gadling faithful? Should the U.S. and other countries follow Portugal’s model and decriminalize or even legalize drugs?

Time favorably cites Greenwald’s study here.