10 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. It worked.

At a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of Portugal’s bold experiment in drug policy — the decriminalization of all drugs — Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, said, “There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal.”

The number of addicts who repeatedly use hard and intravenous drugs has fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people.

Goulao, a medical doctor, stressed that treatment decriminalization was not solely responsible for the drop, but that treatment programs and risk reduction policies also played a role.

As E.D. Cain wrote at Forbes.com:

Many of these 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.

None of this is possible when waging a war.

A group of former BC attorneys general yesterday proposed the decriminalization of marijuana, a policy that probably enjoys majority support in Canada despite decades of anti-pot propaganda. But few North Americans have the gumption to propose legalization of the hardest drugs. The Portugese experience shows that decriminalization of highly addictive drugs  may show the greatest social benefit, since the addictive quality of those drugs gives crime lords their greatest leverage.

All this should be obvious to a laissez faire economist like Stephen Harper. Instead, his response to the monumental failure of the war on drugs is to escalate it. The Conservative Party of Canada talks a good line about personal liberty, but finds the use of police power to enforce their personal morality irresistible.

H/T: Shine Boy.

What really happens when you legalize drugs?

Faced with the conspicuous failure of the war on drugs, the Harper Government proposes to escalate it, as if doing more of something that failed is likely to succeed. Portugal took a different approach. On July 1(!), 2001, that country decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs, a move many feared would accelerate social decay. The British Journal of Criminology has published a study of what actually happened:

This paper examines the case of Portugal, a nation that decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs on 1 July 2001. Drawing upon independent evaluations and interviews conducted with 13 key stakeholders in 2007 and 2009, it critically analyses the criminal justice and health impacts against trends from neighbouring Spain and Italy. It concludes that contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms, and criminal justice overcrowding. The article discusses these developments in the context of drug law debates and criminological discussions on late modern governance.

Talking sense on marijuana

Name the radical lefty who wrote this:

[M]arijuana… is an astonishing story of the hideously expensive and protracted failure of official policy.

There was an increase of 600 percent in the federal drug-control budget, from $1.5 billion to $18 billion, between 1981 and 2002, and it is almost certainly now over $25 billion, and yet cannabis as an industry is an almost perfect illustration of the unstoppable force of supply-side economics. Between 1990 and 2007, there was a 420 percent increase in cannabis seizures by drug-control authorities, to about 140,000 tons; a 150 percent increase in annual cannabis-related arrests, to about 900,000 people; a 145 percent increase in average potency of seized cannabis (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol content); and a 58 percent decline, inflation-adjusted, in the retail price of cannabis throughout the United States….

Despite the drug war’s official costs of over $2.5 trillion over about 40 years, comprehensive research by the authoritative International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a Canadian organization, but with wide international expertise and collaboration, reveals that cannabis is almost universally accessible to twelfth-graders in all parts of the U.S., and that cannabis use by American twelfth-graders has increased from 27 percent to 32 percent between 1990 and 2008; and, furthermore, that among all Americans between the ages of 19 and 28, use increased in the same period from 26 percent to 29 percent….

The Netherlands, which has effectively legalized cannabis use, has roughly half the incidence of per capita use as the U.S…. Differing regimes of cannabis decriminalization have been instituted by Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Portugal, which latter country, even nine years after decriminalization, has among the lowest cannabis-use levels in the European Union. There is a great range of policy options available, and observable in other countries, including restricting places of use, registering and rationing, increasing emphasis on treatment methods, and separating medical (use) from criminal (distribution outside official channels) aspects.

And the public-policy decision has been informally concerted to leave middle-class, prosperous American secondary-school and university youth alone with at least their soft drugs, while trolling relentlessly through poor African-American areas rounding up dealers and users, and imprisoning them en masse.

For blacks, the chances of being arrested and charged and convicted for cannabis offenses are 300 percent greater than for whites. Sending nearly half a million cannabis offenders to prison each year inflicts a $40,000 annual charge per prisoner, not counting the processing costs of the mass-convict-production U.S. law-enforcement system.

Domestic consumption of cannabis is an approximately $140 billion industry in the U.S., which, despite large domestic production, requires large imports, especially from Mexico, Canada, and Colombia. In Mexico, 20,000 metric tons of cannabis are shipped annually to the U.S., and the U.S. is in the position of telling foreign nations to cease production, while it will not impose the same solution on itself nor even make an all-out effort to discourage imports.

The result is a virtual civil war in Mexico, where 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence in the last four years, five times the number of Americans who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last nine years. The beneficiaries of official American policy are the drug cartels, who make billions on it annually, and maintain private paramilitary forces including armored vehicles, submersible drug-transport ships, and a range of aircraft.

If you guessed Conrad Black, move to the head of the class. He was writing in the National Review Online.