As Portugal reels under the unexpected downgrading of its bonds by Moody’s (which was essentially an American ratings agency saying, “We think Greece is going to default and we also think that all you southern European nations are alike, so that means you must be about to default too”), there are two bits of good news to brighten the picture.
First: Portuguese cyclist Alberto Rui Costa just won Stage 8 of the Tour de France. This is highly cool! He was part of a breakaway that left the peloton practically from the start, then pulled out with 5 km to go and stayed in front all the way, despite a big effort by Alexandre Vinokourov to catch him. Vinokourov ran out of steam and was passed by Philippe Gilbert, who also could not catch the determined Portuguese. Costa rolled across the finish line a full 12 seconds ahead of Gilbert, and 15 seconds ahead of all the other leaders. His delight at winning his first ever Tour de France stage was palpable, but not as palpable as my wife’s — she let out a whoop that our entire apartment complex surely heard.
Second: Portugal is currently in the news due to July 1 being the 10-year anniversary of the nation’s decriminalization of all drugs. My adopted nation has, in effect, been a giant laboratory test of the once-radical theory that a War on Drugs doesn’t work. The results have been conclusive: a 50% drop in addicts considered “problematic” (meaning, habitual users of hard and/or intravenous drugs).
A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.
The panels composed of psychologists, judges and social workers recommended action based on the specifics of each case.
Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.
Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, “the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people.”
Now, there’s a concept! Treat them instead of jailing them? Who would have thought it could ever work?
Other side effects of Portugal’s decriminalization policy: lower death rates from overdoses, lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and lower AIDS transmission rates (with the decline of IV drug abuse goes a concurrent decline in virus transmission).
Two years ago, Glenn Greenwald completed a comprehensive study of Portugal’s policy for the CATO Institute, which can be downloaded here. Money quotes from the executive summary:
…there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists” — has occurred.
…The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.
One can only hope.