Portugal Post Pot Decriminalization

By Frank G. Shineman

Portugal is a small Western European country adjacent to Spain on the Iberian Peninsula. The Atlantic Ocean dominates its Western and Southern coastline. Portugal is a geographically diverse nation with mountainous regions, expansive golden plains, and beaches. It is a relatively affluent nation comparable to most other member countries of the European Union.

Based on the previously stated facts, one might think of Portugal as an idyllic vacation spot, and it is. But for this report, we are going to examine in some detail, a very serious socially, wide-ranging problem in the decades prior to the new century; drug addiction, disease, and associated crime statistics were rampant. They caused a nationwide crisis that had to be urgently addressed by the National Government.

It was the brilliant and relatively simple solution that the Nation’s leaders made into law that turned it all around. That was the decriminalization of drug use on a nationwide scale. Portugal’s national leaders just basically said, we are no longer going to consider drug use as a criminal offense but now considered it a health crisis with only civil penalties when an offender is arrested with more than a minimum amount in their possession. The most important factor to note is that all of the illegal drugs are still illegal. It still remains a serious crime to profit from the sale or distribution of heroin, cocaine, and cannabis. The great change that came about was aimed at the casual user, not the sellers or distributors. In the change that was created by these new laws over the past sixteen years, a system was set up. In this new system when a casual user was arrested, they would no longer be sent to jail but would be set up in the way that they would pay a small fine and be referred to a clinic. Part of this transformational system was that they would meet with a social worker, psychologist, doctor, and a lawyer. They are required to sign a contract with this board of overseers, agreeing to strict conditions, understanding that if there was a lack response to this structured system on their part, they could still be imprisoned. If the participant proved to be cooperative, they would, after a minimum period of time qualify for job training and placement.

In 2011, Trish Regan from The Huffington Post reported the following: The Libertarian Think Tank, The Cato Institute commissioned a study that arrived at the following conclusion.

“In the first five years since the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal, statistics proved that usage among teens actually decreased significantly. Furthermore, Portuguese officials were pleased to realize that the rates of new HIV infections caused by shared needles plunged dramatically. As well, the conclusion was reached in government offices that now they were counted to be standouts among almost all other Western countries in the management and control of their country’s drug problem. As a result of these greatly shifting changes of opinion of Portuguese teens was that their response to a nationwide survey was, “Drinking is ok, but not the use of marijuana.” – Trish Regan, What Pot Legalization Looks Like

In June of 2015, Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post wrote a very insightful and interesting article. “ In the most basic terms and dare I say with great wisdom and foresight, Portugal made a very insightful decision. As a result of this incredibly wise decision, Portugal has realized a significant decline in crime, disease and untimely deaths nationwide. In 2015, The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction stated that now Portugal has the second lowest rate of drug overdose deaths in the European Union.