A Quick Check-In on America's Senseless Drug Ban Portugal's Drug Policy Puts America's to Shame

While America continues hemming and hawing over decriminalizing marijuana, Portugal's eminently sensible drug policy is thriving.

As America's poorly waged war on drugs continues, and Mexican drug cartels slaughter hundreds of people just south of the border, the need for rational, reasonable drug laws has never been more pressing.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, rumored to be running for office in Washington state when his Ohio district disappears, turned up at Seattle's Hempfest this weekend and equated efforts to legalize pot with the Arab Spring and the Civil Rights movement. The congressman may be a bit off the mark there, but Indiana lawmakers considering decriminalizing marijuana recently heard testimony from experts who said that banning the drug "does more harm than good." The experts estimated that Indiana, which is in need of revenue as badly as any state these days, could raise more than $40 million a year in taxes by decriminalizing and taxing marijuana.

Meanwhile, the Greek government is considering a bill that would decriminalize all drugs. The bill's supporters say it's necessary in order to ease the burdens on prisons and stop treating sick addicts like criminals. "We have prisons full of inmates for drug-related offenses," Deputy Justice Minister Giorgos Petalotis said. "These are people who need help."

A recent study in Portugal shows that Greece is making the right move. The Western European nation decriminalized drugs, including cocaine and heroin, in July 2001. Ten years later, far from turning into a pit of sad junkies, Portugal has seen its number of "problematic" drug addicts—those regularly using hard drugs or shooting up intravenously—cut in half. Infections amongst intravenous users and drug-related crimes are also down.

The secret, according to Portuguese authorities, is to pair decriminalization with serious and mandatory drug treatment programs. In Portgual, it's not legal to do drugs, but people caught with drugs don't face a criminal court. Instead, they speak with an addiction panel that makes recommendations on a case-by-case basis.

With results like Portugal's, it's becoming increasingly obvious that America's drug bans are most beneficial for two groups: drug dealers and prison builders.

photo via (cc) Flickr user Mykl Roventine