New Report on Innovative Drug Policy in Portugal

Thanks to a new report by an allied organization, we have further evidence that a non incarceration-centered approach to drug policy works. Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch who serves as director of the Global Drug Policy Program at Open Society Foundations writes:

In the 1990s, opinion polls in Portugal revealed that drugs were seen as the nation’s most pressing social problem. Intense debate in the news media, halls of government, churches, and streets of Portugal was inspired by one of Europe’s highest rates of problematic drug use, particularly for heroin. Surprisingly, the Portuguese government’s reaction went against the standard crackdown approach. Instead, the government challenged a committee of specialists—doctors, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, and social activists—to formulate a new national strategy. In 2000, in a dramatic departure from the international norm, Portugal decriminalized drug possession and use.

Kasia summarizes:

By moving the matter of drug use and personal possession out of the domain of law enforcement and into that of public health, Portugal proves that decriminalization does not increase drug use. This approach also works for police officers, who are now free to focus on intercepting large-scale trafficking and uncovering international networks of smugglers.

The report’s author, Artur Domoslawski, notes the magnitude of the reforms: “The changes are also particularly significant for Portugal, a conservative country marked by a history of fascistic governments and a Catholic Church that has a powerful influence on politics and social life.”