Drug Decriminalization Worked in Portugal

The small European country proves opponents of a liberal drug policy wrong.

Portugal’s experiment in drug decriminalization has worked, said health experts last week. “There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline,” according to the president of the country’s Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction. Opponents of a liberal drug policy who fear that decriminalization would lead an increase in drug consumption have been proven wrong.

The number of drug addicts considered “problematic” in Portugal — people who routinely use hard drugs like heroine and intravenous users — has dropped by half since the early 1990s when the figure was estimated at around 100,000.

In 2001, Portugal took the unusual step of decriminalization drug possession. Since then, fewer teenagers have tried drugs and the number of drug related deaths has declined dramatically. The number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction has doubled meanwhile.

Decriminalization alone hasn’t solved the problem but in Portugal, it has been a major step toward reducing crime and tragedies related to drug trafficking and use.

The restrictive drug policy, by contrast, has failed. The war on drugs has not and cannot be won — because it is immoral. A just government doesn’t dictate what products its citizens can and cannot consume or enjoy. It is not the state’s responsibility to protect people against themselves. Any government that embarks on a policy that aims to do just that is bound to fail. Portugal has learned that lesson.