Pope Francis and drug decriminalization

Recently in Rio de Janiero the Pope spoke-out against the legalization of drugs. For me this raised questions about the decriminalization of drugs versus the legalization of drugs.

(I think it’s important to define terms here: Decriminalization implies removing penalties for drug usage (while maintaining penalties for trafficking) while legalization implies the complete removal of any and all penalties related to drugs (both usage and trafficking)).

Now Portugal, for instance, embarked on a widespread decriminalization effort many years ago in response to problems they had with drug usage and HIV spread through the use of needle drugs; rather than locking addicts up for simple possession, the project involved offering addicts medical help to overcome their problems. It seems, on the whole, that this program has been effective in reducing new HIV infections and in helping drug users get effective help for their addictions.

This is definitely different than outright legalization where we completely wipe out any drug-related law; this would merely legitimize trafficking and not necessarily do anything to really help addicts.

So how would the Pope’s comments apply to decriminalization? I’m certainly opposed to legalizing trafficking, but it seems that removing penalties for simple usage would go much father than current efforts at truly helping those with drug addictions.

1: I’m not sure Pope Francis would be aware of, or concerned with, the differences. Decriminalization is, basically, a more palatable word for legalization. For what it’s worth, crime increased in Portugal shortly after the decriminalization.
2: In the past, the Vatican has called for more help rehabilitating drug users. This is going slightly off-topic, but I think one way to do this would be mandatory rehabilitation during a prison sentence, perhaps even in a drug treatment institution rather than a standard prison.

To legalize/decriminalize the use of drugs and not address the underlying social causes is doing nothing for society other than sparing us the costs associated with incarceration.

I once attended a drugs seminar at which some police officers spoke. They said for some drug users taking a substance that was illegal was part of the drugs culture. Some drug takers will always look for what is illegal. Decriminilsation/legalisation may be one possibility; however, some will always choose an illegal substance. IMHO any response made to the issues of drug abuse can only ever be reactive. Drug users are always on the lookout for new substances.

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