Merely the simple thought of at least decriminalizing, rather then legalizing, raises doubts and controversia amongst the conservatives that jump to hasty conclusions, for instance, they fear it would mean the downfall of society and the irreversible tearing apart of the fabric of morality, due to a most certain sky-rocketting drug abuse.
But if we take a closer look at the few countries in the world that decriminalized and even legalized at least cannabis, the reality is a totally different one, of course with minor exceptions.
In countries like Portugal, where the possession of a certain quantity of weed, cocaine, or even heroin, is not considered a crime or any other type of felony, but a public health issue, the quality of life has increased substantially.
“If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users. Anything like legalizing drugs is preposterous — no less ridiculous than trying to lock up every offender,” said former Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan.
For a long time, Portugal carried a fierce war against drugs and televisions transmitted harsh advertisements associating drug use with the worst humanity is capable of. The outspread hard-drug use originated from the revolution in 1974.
Until 1999 it had already recorded a rampant use rate across the country, with more than 1% of Portugeese being addicted to heroin. At that point in time, the perpetually increasing drug-related AIDS deaths reached the top position in the European Union, in spite of the severe punishments imposed by the law.
The rigid politics lead to funding large amounts of taxpayer money with no beneficent results officially recorded. So the government decided to take a risk and fully decriminalized personal drug consumption in the hopes of minimizing the negative consequences for society.
The outcome of this act of acceptance offered the Portuguese to walk freely anywhere with a maximum of 10-day supply of almost anything: from marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, cocain, or crystal meth. Besides that, if caught, any proven drug dealer can face prison, be fined, or both. But that was the case for the last decade only.
Fortunately, in 2001 the government of Portugal decided to radically change its position, despite a staggering opposition that considered decriminalization a mistake with a dreadful impact on social and economical levels. The greatest fear remained the high drug accessibility and use among children.
Now, users of high risk drugs can benefit from proper treatment and with a prompt response. Moreover, less people have been officially reported to continue using any substance. Along with this decreasing trend, the HIV cases reached a record low as well.
But the highest aim was solving the problem of drug overdose cases, and this apparently strict measure hit the right spot: 15 years later, Portugal reported the second-lowest rate of drug overdose death cases, considering that until 2001, for every 1,000,000 adults, 3 of them died from drug overdose.
Some question the visible improvement Portugal has displayed short after the ratification of this measure, as a natural consequence rather than a real pay-off.
A clinical psychologist by the name of Elisabete Moutinho, who played a big part in the drug outreach programs, thinks otherwise:
“I know that is not easy for everyone to accept,” she said. “But they don’t get AIDS from a dirty needle, or hepatitis. They are not beaten by gangs or arrested or put in jail. There is no police corruption, because there is nothing to get rich from. It is a program that reduces harm, and I don’t see a better approach.”
With Portugal being one of the positive practicle examples of what decriminalizing drugs can do to the population and the economy of a country, we can only hope for more places to rethink their position on this and eventually soften the hard policy on drugs that until now, has lead to little if any avail.