Here is a guest blog by Jeffrey Benedict about the historical failures of prohibition and Portugal’s successes with drug decriminalization. We want to hear from you too! If you would like to be featured on 420petition send your post to email@example.com
Marijuana Decriminalization Works, Just Ask Portugal
It’s great and all that we a can brag about the Maine law, passed in 1851. It was one of the first statutory implementations of the developing temperance movement in the United States leading to total prohibition. During the late 19th Century, a street in Manchester, England, was renamed “Maine Road” in honor of the law. If you were in England prior to the turn of the century you’d remember Maine Road as the home of the Manchester Football club.
Opposition to that law turned violent in Portland, Maine on June 2, 1855 during an incident known as the Maine law riot. The riot was a contributing factor to the law being repealed the very next year, 1856, just five years after its implementation. While Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, it stimulated the proliferation of rampant criminal activity. In a study of over 30 major U.S cities during the prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicide by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6% and police department costs rose by 1.4% Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To this day, United States federal law still prohibits the manufacture of distilled spirits without meeting numerous licensing requirements that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal beverage use.
This brief history lesson is in an effort to show that prohibition was put in effect without sufficiently asking what if. Because of that prohibition was a colossal failure and a drain on the pockets of the taxpayers. Now people are asking that marijuana be legalized and I want to make sure people take adequate time to look and see what would happen if marijuana were legal.
Thanks to the country of Portugal, we are able to see the “What if?” You see, on July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including Cocaine and Heroin. Violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm.
Because nearly a decade has now elapsed since the enactment of Portugal’s system, there is ample data enabling its effects to be assessed. I will be referring to a Cato Institute report, “Drug Decriminalization In Portugal Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies” by Glen Greenwald. Seeing how the report is 48 pages long I could go on and on but because I respect your time I will only highlight a few points, hopefully leaving you ample time to read the report yourselves. The report sets forth the data concerning drug-related trends in Portugal both pre- and post decriminalization.
Before the 2001 decriminalization law, the principal challenge was the drug addicts’ fear of seeking treatment. The most substantial barrier to offering treatment to the addict population was the addicts’ fear of arrest. Because they were afraid of being arrested and prosecuted, one prime rationale for decriminalization was that it would break down that barrier, enabling effective treatment options to be offered to addicts once they no longer feared prosecution. Moreover, decriminalization freed up resources that could be channeled into treatment and other harm reduction programs.
The empirical data contained in this report has shown that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage. The true effects of Portuguese decriminalization can be understood only by comparing post decriminalization usage and trends in Portugal with other EU states, as well as with non-EU states (such as the United States, Canada, and Australia) that continue to criminalize drugs even for personal usage. In virtually every category of any significance, Portugal, since decriminalization, has outperformed the vast majority of other states that continue to adhere to a criminalization regime.
Drug-related pathologies—such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage—have decreased dramatically. Since decriminalization, lifetime prevalence rates (which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or drugs over the course of their lifetime) in Portugal have decreased for various age groups. For students in the 7th–9th grades (13–15 years old), the rate decreased from 14.1 percent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006. For those in the 10th–12th grades (16–18 years old), the lifetime prevalence rate, which had increased from 14.1 percent in 1995 to a staggering 27.6 percent in 2001 the year of decriminalization, has subsequently decreased to 21.6 percent in 2006. In fact, for those two critical groups of youth (13–15 years and 16–18 years), prevalence rates have declined for virtually every substance since decriminalization.
This was done by taking drug addiction and treating it in a similar way as we treat assault. It would be similar to a violation of Tort Law in the United States. What they have done is create a three person panel to address people cited with a violation of the drug laws. The commission consists of three members—one of whom is appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The other two members appointed jointly by the Minister of Health and the government’s coordinator of drug policy. The member appointed by the Ministry of Justice will have a legal background, while at least one of the other two members (usually both) will have a medical or social services background (physician, psychologist, social worker).
What they found to work was having a magistrate to ensure the offender did not violate the civil rights of others, a physician or psychologist to address the addiction and how to overcome it and a social worker to insure the defendant has every opportunity to reintegrate into everyday society and once again contribute to it.
By: Jeffrey Benedict
Disclaimer: These opinions and statements made in these posts are solely the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinion of 420 Petition and its parent company.