Rehabilitation not punishment; why more countries should follow Portugal’s lead

in News · 13-11-2020 01:00:00 · 13 Comments

By Tom Biggart
Rather than shying away from drugs, Portugal was the first country in the West to tackle the issue head-on.

This ‘tackling’ refers to the then unique approach taken by Portugal with regard to drugs, all the way back in 2000. Looking at it 20 years on, the Portuguese lesson could be learned by countries everywhere.

For years Portugal was economically stagnant, especially when compared to its close European neighbours. On top of an ailing economy, Portugal had a widespread drug problem. Heroin, the in-vogue substance of the time, was so popular that at one point reportedly 1 percent of the Portuguese population were taking it according to Time.com. This led naturally to the spread of HIV and Aids amongst users; and by 2001 CIA estimates, over 22,000 people had contracted the disease, according to leafly.com.

Heroin had become normalised in Portugal, and action was required.

It is at this timely juncture that the ´Commission for the National Strategy for Drug Control`, spearheaded by Dr João Goulão, weighed in with Law 30/2000`. The law, the first of its kind in the Western world, decriminalised all narcotics - making Portugal a courageous outlier in Europe.

Crucially the law turned drug possession and use from a criminal issue into a public health one. With 2000’s law, the onus whilst dealing with drug addicts was on steering them “away from prisons and punishment’ and ‘towards doctors and healing”. The approach worked, as since the landmark decision, “the number of heroin addicts… drug-related overdose deaths, and HIV rates have all been in steady decline”. In a bid to ramp up the effectiveness of its new law too, Portugal also essentially reversed how it spent its money in the fight against drug addiction. As such, from 2000 onwards 10 percent of police funds have been spent on law enforcement, with the remaining 90 percent on healthcare and treatment.

The law was part of a wider bid to turn the perception of drugs on its head and, looking back today, one sees what a success it has been.

Possession of personal amounts of any drug – i.e. anything less than a 10-day supply – earns the ‘possessor’ an appearance in front of the same Commission as mentioned above, rather than a criminal court. Importantly, too, this ‘Commission’ is made up of a lawyer, a psychologist, and a social worker. It is not part of the criminal justice system and has no one with any prosecutorial powers on it.

Making the drugs trade transparent brings with it a number of positive side effects too. Along with a market of ‘cleaner’ drugs that are higher in purity and contain no hazardous substances bolted onto them, state control of the narcotics trade renders the black market obsolete.

Such progressive legislation also effectively puts an end to drug-related violence.

Speak to anybody in Brazil about lives not dominated by drug wars, and they would call you a “sonhador” / “a dreamer”. (Enormous swathes of Brazilian cities are completely ‘governed’ by drug factions, who often have more power and sway than the police).

Coming back to exemplary Portugal; HIV infection rates and drug-related deaths have plummeted since 2000, and the country now has both the lowest levels of drug use and the lowest drug mortality rate in Western Europe, according to a report by The Independent. In a public health sense, the law couldn’t have worked better.

What should not be overlooked is the extent to which Portugal’s maverick approach to drugs has played a part in its resuscitation as a country. Since 2000’s landmark decision, Portugal has enjoyed enormous progress, both socially and economically. In terms of tourism, Portugal has experienced year upon year increases in foreign tourist numbers since 2000 according to INE. Clearly the nation’s openness and accepting attitude towards drugs has not driven the tourists away – quite the opposite. In economic terms, bar the effects of the global financial crisis making themselves known in the early 2010’s, the economy has steadily improved ever since Portugal joined the EU in the 80s.

Only the global pandemic of 2020 has been able to slow this revival.

Finally, the law’s effect on crime rates has been hugely positive. A more negligible drug ‘black market’ means that far fewer people today are arrested and prosecuted on narcotics charges. Comparisons can be unhelpful, but here one cannot help but consider the lessons that could be learned by the USA. The United States is currently experiencing the worst drug crisis in its history; and opioids have so far claimed more American lives than the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined according to statista.com.

It seems clear; the US - and many other countries at that - is crying out for a João Goulão. Even as devastation of the last 7 months goes on, Portugal can be reassured that it has handled one scourge already.




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Comments:

I would like to thank the editor for allowing freedom of speech by printing all these comments.
Love Steve

By Stephen Walker from Other on 17-11-2020 11:28

Portugal is on the right road in this. Unfortunately the u.s. is in a very different place where the drug wars going back to the 1930s were originally all about repressing n jailing non whites. Nixon's War on Drugs was created to give him "legal" cause to invade the homes of dissenters like the Black Panthers n other,mostly non white groups. Then the CIA got involved and turned drug running (research Air America) into a huge cash cow to pay 4 hidden illegal operations that even Congress was kept unaware of.

Billy's idea echoes Nancy Reagan's"just say no (to drugs)" while the vice president was overseeing the heroin n cocaine imports that fueled the crack epidemic of the 1980s. There is no study that agrees with either of them or finds any criminalization of drugs to be anything but a complete failure and waste of lives and money.

By Arkhi from USA on 16-11-2020 06:52

Portugal is on the right road in this. Unfortunately the u.s. is in a very different place where the drug wars going back to the 1930s were originally all about repressing n jailing non whites. Nixon's War on Drugs was created to give him "legal" cause to invade the homes of dissenters like the Black Panthers n other,mostly non white groups. Then the CIA got involved and turned drug running (research Air America) into a huge cash cow to pay 4 hidden illegal operations that even Congress was kept unaware of.

Billy's idea echoes Nancy Reagan's"just say no (to drugs)" while the vice president was overseeing the heroin n cocaine imports that fueled the crack epidemic of the 1980s. There is no study that agrees with either of them or finds any criminalization of drugs to be anything but a complete failure and waste of lives and money.

By Arkhi from USA on 16-11-2020 06:51

Actually you are wrong. Portugal's economical progress within the EU was exactly during the 90's. Since 2000 it has stagnated and even regressed in some areas like on the purchasing power of the minimum salary, which is now smaller than in 1974, well before it joined the EU.
Nothing of this has anything do with our drug policy, but with the EU and most specially the Euro, which have been the worst mistakes Portugal ever did in recent years.

By José Silva from Beiras on 15-11-2020 09:22

Every country that has abolished capital punishment, has already decriminalized murder. Life for life. The day after Saddam Hussein was convicted, he was dancing on the end of a rope. No incarceration that puts a roof over his head, 3 meals a day, a bed to sleep on, or whatever other perks that might be provided....provided all at the tax payer's expense. Likewise, thieves steal from society twice. And rape? Depends who the judge is.

By William from Other on 14-11-2020 03:09

This article is pretty accurate except for the part where it stated that there's a link between drug use decriminalisation and a supposed economic boom from the year 2000 onwards. Actually the portuguese economy has been stagnating ever since the inception of the euro. There were some short lived growth spurts but global events like the economy crash between 2009 and 2013 and now the pandemic have pretty much brought the economy to the same place where it was in the beginning of the 21st century

By Miguel from Lisbon on 13-11-2020 09:29

Clearly these negative comments were written by persons with no clear understanding of the problem in the US, nor do they have any idea or offer of solutions that are actually effective. Bravo on Portugal... and read the whole article so you can see what decriminalizing means.
I am a dinosaur in the field of addictions, 30+ years, at every level. Ask me.

By Cynthia Santiago from USA on 13-11-2020 06:18

The extraordinary results speak for themselves. All the comparisons in the comments are apples to oranges. Countries have their individual cultural traits which make this great example of Portugal possible. You have it or you don't.

By Efraim Coutinho from USA on 13-11-2020 03:47

People need to be educated from a young age, not to do drugs or alcohol drinking, or smoking tobacco. This could be done at home and in schools. Also with prayer & GOD'S blessing & healing of peoples minds, & desires, & actions. GOD can heal nations. According to people's faith. By Tony Magano. Toronto , On. Canada

By Tony from Other on 13-11-2020 02:43

People need to be educated from a young age, not to do drugs or alcohol drinking, or smoking tobacco. This could be done at home and in schools. Also with prayer & GOD'S blessing & healing of peoples minds, & desires, & actions. GOD can heal nations. According to people's faith. By Tony Magano. Toronto , On. Canada

By Tony from Other on 13-11-2020 02:34

A degenerate person must have written this. If we decriminalise everything, then there is no longer any more crime, bravo! Do you think we should decriminalise rape, theft and murder too? Let's not forget people are CHOOSING to abuse drugs, it's not something that suddenly happens like rain falling from the sky. People are responsible for their own actions and behaviour, and should be forced to indemnify others for the harm they cause due to their behaviour. Drug abusers are usually really stupid and selfish people, thinking only of themselves. They create tremendous nuisance and inconvenience for others. Lastly, without users, there would be no supply either, so the whole problem starts with selfish and stupid drug users.

By Billy Bissett from Porto on 13-11-2020 12:31

"...... opioids have so far claimed more American lives than the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined"

The Opiods mentioned were Medical Prescriptions drugs and NOT sourced from the so called Black Market.
Docotors released these legal Drugs.

This type of reporting is Very misleading.

Decriminalising Drugs is a start. Waking up to Plants not being criminals perhaps might be worth thinking about.
Shop Tobacco is legal - yet growing it is illegal! Naughty naughty Tobacco Plant.
Dare I mention Cannabis. Legalise in Portugal and money worries are over. Grow it for global medical market and open up free tourism.

"...hippies, why cant they be satisfied with alcohol ; drugs equal bullying, aggression, domestic violence and fill hospitals beds..."
Or is that Alcohol we are talking about?

By Stephen Walker from Other on 13-11-2020 06:44

For the record most jurisdictions in the USA have a type of "drug court" for the first time offender. Drug users are given the chance of rehabilitation or incarceration if they are not involved in the sale or distribution. The heroin epidemic in the USA is many faceted and wont go away by legalizing drugs. Learning from the success in social policies from other countries is wise to expect them to uniformly work everywhere is foolish

By Daniel from USA on 13-11-2020 05:47
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