A Decade of Decriminalization
Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized drugs, including “hard” drugs like cocaine and heroin. Since then, drug-related crime is down substantially, addiction is down, and drug-related health problems (i.e., infections from unsterilized heroin needles) are down dramatically also.
At the same time, Portugal is an economic basket case, having needed a substantial bailout of its economy from the EU and IMF. While it has been freed up from the financial commitment to its former version of the war on drugs, doing so has not moved its government towards financial solvency. Are there other reasons Portugal’s government so badly mismanaged the wealth of this industrialized nation? You betcha. But the decriminalization of drugs has not brought aobut fiscal nirvana, a benefit touted by many in the pro-legalization camp. Note that Portugal decriminalized drugs, which is different than legalizing them.
The question is, has Portugal’s policy been a net benefit for the country? The evidence suggests to me that the answer is “yes,” but not in economic terms that can be readily measured. If we look to Portugal as an example, we see a case study that decriminalization makes some things better — it is an improvement over prohibition, but not a magic bullet to solve all of society’s problems. I see it as an argument in favor of decriminalization. Feel free to explain in the comments why Portugal’s example is either useful or confusing for the Anglospheric nations from which most of our Readership arises, or why were decriminalization or legalization to be attempted here, we might expect different results.