Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Decriminalizing drugs - one nation's experience

I was interested to come across an article in Forbes, published last year, analyzing Portugal's experience with decriminalizing drug use. Here's an excerpt.

Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. One decade after this unprecedented experiment, drug abuse is down by half.

. . .

Many ... innovative treatment procedures would not have emerged if addicts had continued to be arrested and locked up rather than treated by medical experts and psychologists. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time.

There's more at the link.

I've always been opposed to decriminalizing drugs, even though I accept that the current War On (Some) Drugs has been an almost complete failure and a colossal waste of national, regional and local resources. However, the information provided in this article has started me rethinking my opposition to decriminalization. I'm going to do some more research on the subject, and see whether other nations have had similar experiences.

Meanwhile, what do readers think? Is there any way to decriminalize drug use without running the risk of having addictions soar, or risking more people driving (and having accidents) under the influence of narcotic (rather than alcoholic) intoxicants? I'm not sure whether the 'cure' might not be worse than the 'disease'! Please, let's not have a re-hash of the tired old arguments about marijuana being no worse than tobacco or alcohol, or any of that nonsense. I'm concerned with the public safety and security implications of decriminalization. From that perspective, what say you?



Wayne Conrad said...

Peter, Thank you for opening the discussion on this.

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a "no knock" entry. The first excuse used to justify "no knock" entries was to prevent suspects from flushing the evidence down the toilet when the police came to serve a warrant. The war on some drugs has been a powerful battering ram used to justify this and other insults to our rights and liberties. Even if drug use goes up as a result of legalizing illegal drugs, I can't imagine that being as bad as the ill-effects of this war.

It seems to me that most of the ill that illegal drug cause to society (increased property crime, for example) is a direct result of prohibition, not of the drugs themselves. The parallels between this war and the prohibition against alcohol seem obvious.

Old NFO said...

I'm against it from the security aspect, along with the military maintenance aspect... I was almost killed in 1977 because two techs decided to smoke Thai Stick before they came to work, and 'forgot' about half the fasteners holding the leading edge of the wing on...

C. S. P. Schofield said...

I would point out two things about the War On Drugs in America;

1) During Prohibition there was no national law against marijuana, heroin, or cocaine ... and the biggest problem drug was still alcohol, although it was banned.

2) The situation of chronic pain sufferers, who cannot get sufficient doses of strong pain meds lest the Drug Warriors bust their doctors, is barbaric. It would be barbaric and inexcusable even if the War On Drugs was a success.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't work if just the one country does it. Problem is: *you* decriminalize the drugs, but your neighboring states do not. The drugs still haven to come from somewhere...

We have the same problem in the Netherlands: softdrug are legal in small quantities, harddrugs are illegal but the user is seen as a patient to be treated, not as a criminal.

So what happens? Drugs are sold in "coffee shops" legally through the front door, but de supply coming in through the back door is not in small quantity and therefore illegal. We have organized crime making millions if not more from the growing of pot. Including rival gang killings, people forced to grow pot in their homes, the works.

When the local market is saturated you do not stop growing, you try to export is to the neighboring countries. Which frown on this trade :)
So the customers come from France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark to get their fix in Holland. Which causes all kind of problems here. We have drugrunners who compete (with violence) for the customers coming into Holland. We have the highest content of THC in marihuana in the world, so people get a "high" so high that they do not know what they are doing anymore. Mostly self correcting such as jumping of fifth floor balconies because they think they can fly, driving like idiots because the think they can rival Nascar drivers, you name it, we got it.

But not a peep in the MSM, we shall show the rest of the world that we are doing it right. Same in Portugal. Do not believe everything you read. It still doesn't work. Been there, done that, but no t-shirt: stolen by a drug user looking for the money for his next fix...


tpmoney said...

It seems to me that minus the part about legal sales, Pieter just described the US drug situation: Organized crime making millions, rival gang killings, people growing pot at home, drug runners competing with violence, and people under the influence doing stupid and dangerous things. Form that perspective, if the end to the War on (Some) Drugs (and People Suffering from the Common Cold) meant that everything stays exactly the same as it is now, it still seems to me that would be a net win.

It's also worth pointing out OldNFO, with all due respect, the War on (Some) Drugs was already in effect in 1977 (declared in 1971), and doesn't appear to have prevented your incident. And given how much more invasive this WoD is now, and how much it continues to fail, I don't see continuing on our current path as preventing such incidents in the future.

Anonymous said...

IMO, you aren't really legalized until Winston is selling marijuana cigarettes and the drug companies have prescription drugs based on active ingredients of some of these drugs. At that point, it can be regulated and taxed etc. Partially legalizing small quantities or growing in the home isn't going to accomplish anything except continue the status quo.

I agree on the problems with the War on Drugs. However, that is a problems that needs to be addressed separately. A politician might favor legalization but not rolling back no-knock warrants and such.


Sevesteen said...

If I were writing laws on decriminalizing drugs, I'd make sure employers could still drug test employees and fire them for failing, that driving under the influence of recreational drugs was illegal and providing drugs to children was punished harshly. I think the net result would be slightly increased use of pot, a net decrease in harder drug use, and far fewer 'side effects' to those of us who don't use recreational drugs.

Dirk said...

If marijuana (and perhaps a few other drugs) were legalized, and sold alongside liquor, subject to the same sale restrictions, and taxed and regulated the same, etc, I think it would be a net win. Many of the problems described by Pieter would just not happen here - we don't have a half a dozen countries within easy driving distance full of users looking for a fix, for starters. We also have a large number of farmers who would likely start growing it tomorrow if it were legalized today, so the supply would stay in-country, not subject to the whims of drug cartels in other countries. Many of those cartels would wither and die, or be forced to go legit - and could do so within our borders.

Without drug traffic across the borders, the opportunities for terrorists "riding along" would be greatly decreased. Violence over drugs would evaporate.

Tax revenues from the sale of newly-legalized drugs could be used to fund treatment programs and addiction research. Distribution centers for addicts unable to afford their fixes could be funded, as well. This, of course, would greatly reduce property crimes and violence committed by those trying to pay for their next fix. Would probably greatly reduce prostitution, as well.

Jobs would be created overnight, money and transactions that are not being taxed now would start generating new tax revenues.

And, as others have mentioned, the constant assault on civil liberties, and the erosion of same would be stopped, and maybe even reversed.

Just some scattered thoughts on the topic...

Anonymous said...

The WOD has been a complete failure in and of itself and has led to all the ills outlinde by the previous posts. It is time for it to stop.

Legalize them then tax and regulate them the same way alcohol and tobacco are. Set aside those taxes for education, treatment and recovery programs and be done with it.

Prohibition doesn't work and never has, but liberty might.

Anonymous said...

As an old friend who retired from the DEA said:

"Until drug use has the same stigma that child abuse has, there is no way to drasticly reduce it here in the US."

Addicts will be addicts regardless who sells them their need. The thing the system does now is put money and power into the hands of people who use it to corupt government officals and murder citizens.

Fourty years of the War on Drugs and we are in the same trenchline.


trailbee said...

From personal experience, as a parent, I would be against legalization. How would you MAKE a drug user seek help for his/her addiction when their best friend is easily, cheaply available.
It's bad enough now, but we are going to have another throw away generation.
Hate to mention this here, but Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book uses drug legalization as a way to socialize a people. We are already half way there now with this president. We are being governed by people using drugs.
All the comments are so good, and seductive, but if you want to keep families intact and productive and healthy, please do not do this. You are condemning this country to hell.

Anonymous said...

Decriminalizing the possession and use would eliminate a lot of problems. Selling it in controlled environments means tax dollars. DUI laws, drug testing by employers, giving it to a minor laws, should be left in place.

There will always be addicts; it is a personality disorder. There will always be people who misuse a substance be it food, drugs or alcohol to escape their problems.

And while we are on the subject of decriminalizing behaviors that have been with us since time immemorial. Prostitution should be decriminalized at the same time.


Anonymous said...

Proponents of legalization please need to answer the following.

Will you legalize only marijuana, or also heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, crystal meth, etc. If not, won't the cartels quickly switch to what is still illegal including the associated violence?

Similar to DUI or DWI for alcohol, will there be a "driving while stoned" field test, blood or breath test, metric, and limit that includes opiates and THC? Do these tests exist at a field diagnostic level today?

Will prescription drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers (wicodin, oxycontin etc) be available without prescription? How about the little blue pill drugs? If not, why not? The public health problem of available antibiotics has to be less than that of easily available heroin.

If hard drugs are legalized what will the age limit be? 18? 21? If drugs are legal for 18 year olds will the age to purchase alcohol lower to 18? 16?

How will the drugs be made available? Can I go to the local 24/7 pharmacy and get a 6 pack of syringes full of heroin? If not, won't cartels still control distribution including the associated violence?

My politically liberal friends advocate for "drug legalization" but they can never come up with a coherent, consistent answer to the above machanics. I believe I have posted these questions more than once on this blog's comment section and nobody answered.

Sevesteen said...

Proponents of legalization please need to answer the following.

Will you legalize only marijuana, or also heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, crystal meth, etc.

I would legalize virtually all drugs.

Similar to DUI or DWI for alcohol, will there be a "driving while stoned" field test, blood or breath test, metric, and limit that includes opiates and THC? Do these tests exist at a field diagnostic level today?

Driving impaired would remain a crime. Whether there was a test is irrelevant, we shouldn't give up rights just to make things easier for police.

Will prescription drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers (wicodin, oxycontin etc) be available without prescription? How about the little blue pill drugs? If not, why not? The public health problem of available antibiotics has to be less than that of easily available heroin.

There is justification for leaving antibiotics as prescription only--misuse of them can harm uninvolved people by creating antibiotic resistant infections. Most other drugs should be legal to adults.

If hard drugs are legalized what will the age limit be? 18? 21? If drugs are legal for 18 year olds will the age to purchase alcohol lower to 18? 16?

I'd go for the same rules as alcohol.

How will the drugs be made available? Can I go to the local 24/7 pharmacy and get a 6 pack of syringes full of heroin? If not, won't cartels still control distribution including the associated violence?

I would attempt to ensure that the penalties for selling to children were not worth the profit, but other than that it would be up to the business involved. It would probably wind up sold at shady carryouts like "bath salts" and crack pipes.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, make em all legal. But also make it legal for me to cut the totally stoned drivers head off after he just killed my kid.
Do I have the answer? Maybe the chinese solution would work.


Anonymous said...

While it's true the war on drugs is a miserable failure you will never see decriminalization in this country. Why? It's big business. The money expended fighting this war and the associated cost to include incarceration, enforcement, legal fees of defense attorneys, drug testing, probation, parole, etc., etc. are hugely profitable for lot's and lot's of people. This doesn't even approach the billions made by the rich who invest in drugs but never touch them. The war on drugs is the golden goose for a lot of people ad they will ot allow that goose to be killed.

Will Brown said...

Sticking strictly to the "public safety and security implications" of decriminalizing individual possession and use of those drugs which are strictly illegal under current US law, I don't think anyone can advance a consistent argument that doing so would measurably alter those two considerations from the historical experience.

Old NFO relates his experience which I suggest correlates well with a more generalised "public safety" concern - the fact that such intoxicants are illegal appears to have not reduced the degree of unsafety in the least. If you put the question to mhim, I bet Old NFO could relate an example of an officer or Chief doing something equally unsafe after a too-liquid lunch at the O Club or Chief's Club too. I joined the Navy within a few years of his doing so and I know I could.

I believe an argument could be made that removing the legal liability from drug usage would actually improve the security impact (I'm assuming you mean from a commercial transaction perspective here). Not having to transact for your drug of choice from a dodgy character in a dangerous part of town would automatically be an improvement; buying a known dosage of a stipulated potency from a reputable commercial outlet would remove most of the additional personal security threat I think (the potential for "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" crime danger exists now and won't be changed by drug decriminalizetion).

The arguments against decriminalizing drugs are all moral and/or arbitrary infringement of our individual rights by state authoritarians.

None of which means that doing so (decriminalizing) won't have at least short term horrendous consequences for the terrminally stupid among us. Or that some of that won't splash onto some of the rest of us. As such stupid activities tend to do nowadays - with the survivors getting stupid long jail terms for the rest of us to pay for as well. From the perspective you stipulate Peter, there simply is no good argument to not decriminalizer all drugs and market them in precisely the same manner we alrteady do market drugs - hopefully without anywhere near as much of the added cost and inconvience we confront now.

tpmoney said...

trailbee, you say from personal experience as a parent, but you give no personal experiences and certainly none as a parent. You do however make a number of emotional pleas and some non-sequitors. To answer your one question, you would force them to seek treatment (assuming it was necessary) the same way we currently force alcoholics, by court order after a crime has been committed. You might answer "Why should we have to wait until a crime has been committed, and the answer is, because a belief in liberty and inalienable rights demands it of us.

Anonymous 1, to answer your questions:

1) All of them.

2) Yes, you would have DUIs as we currently do for alcohol and legal drugs. If there is no current field test, that isn't a reason to encroach on rights and freedom. I assure you that if it becomes necessary, someone will invent a field test.

3) I've always thought the prescription restriction on drugs was rather stupid anyway so why not do away with it. Most pharmacists probably wouldn't sell you the high end stuff without a prescription anyway, because pharmacists know what those drugs do too.

4) Alcohol should be 18 anyway, and yes, it should be 18. If you don't think so, explain to me why you can sign up to be sent off to kill another human being, but poisoning your own body should be illegal.

5) They would be available however a business wants to sell them. Bars and hookah lounges do quite well, I imagine a few opium dens wouldn't do worse.

Anonymous 2,

Is it legal to cut off the head of a drunk driver when they run over your kid?

This is one of the many reasons why the war on drugs, DARE and all the other crap that the government pushes to keep kids and people in general off of drugs doesn't work, because even a 5th grader in DARE can see that it's mostly laden with a lot of emotional appeals and scare tactics, and not a whole lot of facts.

Jim March said...

Russia had about 100,000 heroin addicts, many left over from the Afghan war or addicted to opium/heroin brought back by soldiers stationed there.

Note the past-tense.

Using ridiculously invasive methods that we in the US should never tolerate, the Russians managed to halt most of the cross-border trade in the stuff, or at least raise the prices way out of line with what addicts could pay.

Sounds great, right?

No. It became a nightmare. Because what replaced heroin was a synthetic bathtub-brewed semi-equivalent known as "Krokodil".

This is literally the worst and most addictive drug in the world. Trying to get clean off it is 3x harder than coming off heroin. Average lifespan of a krocodil addict: one year.

If you've got the guts, go do a google image search on the words "krokodil" and "addicts". See, the stuff causes flesh to rot from bone. But because it's a powerful anti-biotic (in every sense!) a relatively quick death from gangrene is denied.

In the US, methamphetamines came from the same pattern: coke and pot prices went up, meth started as a cheaper domestically produced alternative that does far more damage than either.

Prohibition doesn't work.

Raising drug prices (the goal of US law enforcement, and a key metric of their "success") simply causes more chaos, more death, more sickness, richer and better-armed drug dealers who turn more violent to protect higher profits.

God damn all the "drug warriors" to hell.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

Freedom is messy, and fraught with danger. If you're looking for a neat, clean solution to a human problem - well, the only road that seductively whispers of neat Final Solutions is paved with mass graves and the rotting corpses of the thousands of humans who must die in order to not yet achieve the ideal state on earth.

Will decriminalization result in deaths ranging from a neat overdose to a messy schoolbus losing an argument with a concrete truck? Yes. Will it result in millions of young people binging on drugs in the first year they can legally get their hands on them? Of course; it's a cultural touchstone that we all know what "Turning 21" entails in the behavior department. Will there be underage drug use? Yes. Will high drivers be a threat in greater numbers than now?

Look, then end of Prohibition was hard on the country. We know this. The end of Drug Prohibition will be hard on this country. The end of Racial Prohibition - apartheid - was, and still is, hard on your home country. That doesn't mean that for all its dangers, messiness, displays of human stupidity, and body count, it wasn't, and won't be, the right choice.

Anonymous said...

The fix to the drug problem is to continue to keep illegal drugs illegal and fix the penal system. Users caught with "recreational" quantities, from Hollywood celebutaunt to US Senator down through high SES teenage boy to gang-banger, get a series of standardized, no probation or deferred ajudication punishments.

Strike One: One long weekend in lockup with the "Scared Straight" guys. See the inmate in the corner that mumbles to himself every waking hour? Next time he is your cell-mate. See the 280 pound muscle man? He has HIV, Herpes, Hep B, Tetanus, is sadistic, thinks you are cute and is really attracted to you. Would you like to spend more time with him? See the guy with no teeth and dripping sores? That's what happens to meth heads. Strike Two is two weeks of the same plus more education. Strike Three is one year of hard labor and education, 5 hours of each every day. If you work hard and behave you get the morning shift of work when it is cool outside, otherwise you hand weed the rice field in the hot sun. Classwork is antidrug propaganda for the educated, and remedial K-12 education for the uneducated. Strike 4 is clearing minefields, cleaning toxic waste, etc for as long as you survive or we think you are ready to go back to step 3.

For distributional quantities you get one chance of strike 2 (hey, anyone makes mistakes). Strike 3 for distributional quantities is death penalty, dig your own grave in front of the recreational quantity inmates, followed by firearm target practice (criminal is the target) for volunteer victims of drug crime violence. Sound drastic? It will "be hard on this country" but is the "right choice".