Drug Decriminalization - Empirical Results

Portugal, a Catholic country, though like much of Europe, largely of the non-practicing and/or secularized variety, decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, in 2001. With seven years of data to study, the results are in.

They can be viewed at the website of the libertarian Cato Institute here.

Though possession remains illegal, enforcement is strictly administrative (more like a speeding ticket) rather than criminal. This gives the state more authority to treat addicts and users rather than imprison them, which clogs courts and prisons as we see in this country. Trafficking in drugs remains illegal and criminal.

The gist of the results is that the sky has not fallen: usage rates have not increased, and are down slightly; related problems like STDs, prostitution, theft, etc. related to use have dropped dramatically; Portugal has not become a haven for traffickers or users, and the list goes on.

As illegal cartels get richer and more violent around the world, to the point that they could topple and take over the Mexican state, as they already nearly have in Guinea-Bissau and other places, I think more consideration should be given to this option.

Especially now as the empirical evidence suggests that what people want–less use of drugs, less crime from drugs, less power to drug dealers–may come from a de-criminalization regime, rather than the criminal system we have today, I think this should be an option more “on the table.”

We are already seeing hints at this from the Obama administration, by stopping raids on marijuana dispensing shops that are legal under California law. The Economist and Time have also recently editorialized in favor of decriminalization at one level or another.

What do the readers think of this?

I think that if anyone goes to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) web site, they can see for themselves the negative health effects of illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Heroin and cocaine are addictive, and marijuana is psychologically addictive.

Aside from the health effects, there are the time wasting effects and physical impairment effects. One can check out of really living life by being a drug addict. A person can sit around for hours smoking dope, getting nothing done and then feel depressed because, well, it’s not productive. Impairment exists for driving and on the job activities.

Illegal drugs weaken the mind, they weaken the will and impair the body. They are not illegal for no good reason. It would be another 'brain drain" on this country if we told young and old, Hey! You can smoke dope now.

Who’s going to write the next doctoral dissertation? Paint the next great painting? How many artists and musicians are ruining their lives because of dope? How many have died?

Encouraging people to be slaves to dope is not a good idea.


I don’t disagree with anything you just said, but your last sentence only begs the question.

The whole point of the post is that decriminalizing drugs ***may not ***encourage people to be slaves to dope. The data shows in Portugal that there is an opposite effect: drug use is down slightly and is far lower than in most European countries. In fact, usage is the highest in the countries with the strictest criminal penalties.

Furthermore, as you point out, many people “waste” their lives on drugs, but might that be because to access them they have to enter a criminal subculture where everyone around them wastes their lives in hedonistic pursuits as they await jail or death. And is “wasting” one’s life without harming anyone else a criminal offense? Should we make those people wards of the state in jail because they “waste” their lives high? (I might also add, many great paintings and music have probably been made by people on drugs–including alcohol–but that’s besides the point).

And as far as gently wasting your life in a stupor, that’s one thing but killing and robbing others in drug deals and to get money to buy more dope, that’s another and is far more harmful to society. When users go to jail, they rarely get clean. They usually get more addicted and become hardened criminals capable and willing of committing harsher crimes to get drugs. If decriminalizing possession makes it easier for addicts to get treatment to overcome their addiction, and reduces criminal activity related to drug use (again as shown in the data) is that not desirable?

Let’s assume everyone wants as few people as possible addicted to and using drugs, and after trying option 1, x% of people are addicts and committing y # of crimes, and after using option 2, <x% of people are addicted committing <y # of crimes, does it not make sense to say option 2 is better? If you find out option 2 is decriminalizing possession, how can you ignore the facts to say well, still we can’t encourage drug use, so option 2 is off the table?:confused:

I don’t like how it’s being reduced to a math problem. Just plug in all of these components and the results will be Z.

And who will pay for treatment? Allow me to illustrate:

Hi. You wanna buy some heroin? It’s legal now.

Why? I don’t want to be a drug addict.

< OR >

Sure. Yeah.

Two months later.

Hello? Local hospital? I’m addicted to heroin. Can I get some treatment?

And you still haven’t dealt with the damage to the mind and body.

The most important point is spiritual. Why should any human being abuse his or her body with an addictive and harmful drug? And abuse their mind?


You may not like it, but if you don’t want people addicted to drugs, and decriminalizing drugs leads to fewer people being addicted to drugs, then shouldn’t that be the policy pursued?

I do not think there are millions of people lined up to use drugs the second they are decriminalized. People who want to use them are using them. They are ubiquitous despite being illegal. So, I don’t think you would see many people using drugs just because they won’t go to jail for possessing them. In fact, the results in Portugal absolutely bear this out. There was no increase in use after legalization. In fact, use went down. There are, on the other hand, people attracted by the “glamour” of illegal drug use, the “forbidden fruit” mentality, that might not use drugs if they were legal. This is especially true of teenagers who are often rebellious.

As far as showing up at the hospital looking for treatment? Again, that’s the whole point. When drugs are illegal, people don’t show up at the hospital looking for treatment because they don’t want to go to jail. They show up dead or overdosed. If someone does show up wanting treatment would you rather throw them in jail or treat them and help them overcome their addiction?

And I am proposing to deal with the damage to the mind and body. I am positing that this policy might reduce drug use and addiction, thereby reducing the damage to the mind and body. And speaking of damage to the mind and body, you know what really damages the mind and body? Locking someone up in a dirty, violent prison for possessing a small amount of drugs. Where they often get raped, beaten, and further addicted to drugs, not to mention inculcated into a hardened criminal culture.

Finally, as to the spiritual question, I don’t know the answer, but you might ask the millions of people who already use and abuse and are addicted to drugs today despite their being illegal. If decriminalizing possession reduces the number of users and addicts, and keeps them out of prison and with easier access to treatment, then hasn’t a spiritual service been done? You act as if no one uses drugs now, but if we decriminalize drugs, the floodgates will open. The floodgates are already open. The question is how to deal with the damage?

Middle class people with resources who have children who get hooked on drugs can often avoid jail time for them by getting a good lawyer. They then send their kids straight to treatment and would often admit that’s a better option than jail. Poorer people don’t have that option. Their kid gets caught with pot or worse and he’s off to prison. My point is, drug abuse is usually viewed a health, social, spiritual issue when it is personal to someone, and a criminal issue when its personal to someone else.

Will there always be hard core addicts who won’t be helped with treatment? Yes, but that’s true today, despite all the laws on the books, the DEA, prosecutors, jails, prisons, judges and everything else we throw at the problem and it keeps getting worse and worse the stricter the criminal punishments get.

The root question is not, are there addicts? But, how does each one of us view the dignity of our own bodies?

Here is the Catholic view from an Archbishop:



The Church allows the consumption of alcohol. Wine is tied closely to the Catholic Church through the Eucharist. I believe that alcohol is like many other drugs in that it is possible to abuse, but it is also possible to use without abusing. Unfortunately, people are rarely good judges of which category they fall into if they are abusing drugs, and therein lies the problem.

Still, I think decriminalization, which is different from legalization, is generally a good idea. It makes it easier for drug abusers and their families to get help before things spiral out of control, like they did in several cases in the link Ed posted.

Alcohol and tobacco are about as addictive and destructive as you can get. All legal though.

Our draconion substance laws are the cause of our drug problem plain and simple.

Afters years of deaths on the roads caused by drunk drivers, a few idiots want to make it easier for people to become more impaired legally. Does anyone think for a moment that driving while “legally” high will be a good thing? That working and getting injured while legally high will be a good thing? That opening legal drug shops in poor neighborhoods will be a good thing?

Has anyone considered for a moment what the local Mafia will do when legal drug sales cut into their profits? Anyone? They will aggressively try to get market share back in any way possible, and I think everyone knows that violence is always part of that picture.

To me, this is all about money, and not about saving lives. How many of the "now legal’ drug companies that will spring up will make sure to legally avoid paying taxes on their profits like other big corporations do? This is a lose-lose proposition for human life and human communities.


Anyone have stats on the crime rate in countries where drugs have been legalized? It seems like if you legalize drugs (Marijuana) you eliminate crime associated with illegal trade.

Anyone with statistical info on the results?

The object is to treat other drugs more like alcohol. Driving high would be subject to the same laws as while drunk. Coming into work high would be treated similar to coming into work drunk.

Has anyone considered for a moment what the local Mafia will do when legal drug sales cut into their profits? Anyone? They will aggressively try to get market share back in any way possible, and I think everyone knows that violence is always part of that picture.

So we should surrender to the mafia out of fear of violence? Ending prohibition did end most of the organized crime that had appeared during it.

To me, this is all about money, and not about saving lives. How many of the "now legal’ drug companies that will spring up will make sure to legally avoid paying taxes on their profits like other big corporations do? This is a lose-lose proposition for human life and human communities.

A pack of cigarettes is mostly taxes. There’s no way to get out of that unless you steal them or go to Indian reservations. And they’re starting to really crack down on the reservations.

So instead of a criminal charge it’s a fine for possession of small quantities. Presumably things like driving or operating machinery while under the influence are still illegal, as is trafficking (and I’d imagine, as with most countries, this is largely determined by the quantity in one’s possession). I think this is OK as a legal response to the drug problem - as long as it IS enforced.

BUT (big but) if evidence really suggested that these drugs were no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, then why aren’t people likewise fined for possession of a small quantity of wine or spirits, or a few tobacco ciggies or cigars?

But illegal drug shops are ok?

Has anyone considered for a moment what the local Mafia will do when legal drug sales cut into their profits? Anyone? They will aggressively try to get market share back in any way possible, and I think everyone knows that violence is always part of that picture.

So creating violent criminals is the answer as well? You really think that its ok to send someone who had some pot or heroin into jail, a place that you need to become a hardcore criminal to survive?

To me, this is all about money, and not about saving lives. How many of the "now legal’ drug companies that will spring up will make sure to legally avoid paying taxes on their profits like other big corporations do? This is a lose-lose proposition for human life and human communities.

Money is the reason why we have these draconian substance laws. Do you know how much it costs to hold a prisoner? Do you know the profit rate is for private prisons? How much money do you think that the DEA pulls in a year in just seasures?

Decriminalization is a middle ground between legality and a criminal offense. It isn’t totally legal, but the punishment is relatively minor. It’s really a compromise between people who want it to be legal and regulated and people who want it to be totally illegal. Presumably, nobody wants alcohol and tobacco to be fined for possession, so we don’t need a compromise here.

first a disclaimer, i am a dipper. its a nasty habit that offers very little if any good.(nicotine may be a ADHD treatment someday)

alcohol on the other hand offers people a large amount of good potential if not abused.

illegal drugs again offer no good to anyone.

i dont see them all as being on the same level. so its apples to oranges to say this is legal so that should be too.

Opiates like heroin and amphetamines like crystal meth are both schedule II drugs, meaning they have accepted medical uses. There’s a lot of evidence that marijuana can be used to treat pain, anxiety, depression, OCD, and bipolar disorder. They even use synthetic marijuana to alleviate many of the side effects of chemotherapy.

I’ve known people who were kind of messed up mentally, though not strictly disabled, who were able to function a lot better when using marijuana. It can balance people out and calm them down. It can also make some people paranoid, and others lazy and lethargic, but it does seem to have its uses.

Yes it is apples and apples, please show me a case when someone overdosed on pot. Or lost there jaw due to some hash.

No way - I’m sure you could find many people who have loved ones who are alcoholics or dying of lung cancer or other smoking-related disease who’d LOVE possessors of those particular substances to be fined. Problem being that there are huge and powerful political lobbies based around alcohol and tobacco because they are gajillion-dollar industries.

And something like 99% of US citizens don’t think tobacco and alcohol should be illegal. The people do have some say in this, you know.

So, those who support decriminalization are now “idiots”. Ad hominem attacks begin where the ability to support your position with logic and facts end.

First: It would remain illegal to drive under the influence of any substance that intoxicates you, just as it is today. Do you know that it is illegal to drive under the influence of anything right now in most states? For example, you may legally possess and use prescription drugs, but if you are half full of codeine, you can still be ticketed or go to jail for getting behind the wheel. The same would remain true under a decriminalization regime. So, so much for this “argument.”

Second, yes, we know exactly what “the Mafia” will do when legalization cuts into their profits. Something else, hopefully less profitable. After alcohol was legalized, the mob and other organized crime outfits moved into “illegal drugs” precisely because they were illegal. They also lost a lot of money and power in the process because the market for drugs then was so much smaller than for alcohol. Ending prohibition enabled law enforcement to bring down the mob as it existed then as a huge, powerful corrupting entity throughout the country precisely because it robbed the mob of its main profit center. Now, the market for illegal drugs dwarfs the illegal market for alcohol in the 1920s in terms of cash. That money buys power and corrupts. If criminality is cut out of this market, they will go in to other illegal activities (human trafficking, etc.) but they will lose a HUGE profit center, and thus will lose much of their power in the process. We know what will happen because it happened before in 1933 when Prohibition ended. And, do you think the illegal drugs are not the CAUSE of the epidemic violence in the urban US, Mexico, Central America, etc.?? Find one supporting study or anything that supports your claim that decriminalization would lead to an INCREASE in violence when the results of the past 40+ years of drug control policy in this country is precisely the opposite?

Finally, all about money? Do you know how much we spend on the “war” on drugs now? How much we spend on prisons? How much we spend trying to correct the wreckage cause by illegal drug trafficking violence? Billions. To say nothing of the billions made by the drug cartels. To think that a profit motive behind decriminalization is absurd because first it will take money AWAY from the cartels overnight. Would you rather the government made money at this from taxes or that criminal cartels made it. Second, we would SAVE billions by cutting down the prison population, all in exchange for a much cheaper program of drug treatment. It is cheaper to treat someone for addiction than to lock them up behind a hundred million dollar prison complex.

I apologize if this post is “feisty” but it is respectful, and I would appreciate you not using insults to the intelligence of those proposing an argument that they can support with logic and data.

And most finally, the decriminalization idea is more humane and respectful to humanity – it treats people and helps them overcome addictions that are often beyond their control without throwing them into a vicious prison and ruining their life forever.

Jesus halted the stoning of the the adulteress, which was “the law” at that time. He sent those who would stone her away, forgave her and told her to sin no more. Is not throwing a drug user (who may not have even committed adultery, which harms someone else beyond himself) in prison similar to stoning an adulteress to death? After all, it is a harsh penalty that is the law today. Isn’t treating that person with compassion to help them overcome their addiction and “go and sin no more” a compassionate solution more in line with how Jesus dealt with the adulterous woman?

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