The Amazing Story Of What Happened When One Tiny Country Decriminalized ALL Drugs

by Sophie McAdam

Decriminalization has worked in Portugal, and should inspire governments around the world to do the same

stage1-400x266Portugal is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but until 2001 it had a BIG drug problem. One in 100 Portuguese citizens were addicted to heroin, a shocking statistic that was met with brute force and a zero tolerance policy by the country’s government. The strict laws meant that anybody caught with drugs– regardless of the amount, what kind of drug, and whether it was only for personal use- would be prosecuted (and often jailed).

The ‘War on Drugs‘ was a battle the government fought with passion and zeal- but no matter how many people went to prison, it just wasn’t working.

“The hard-line approach didn’t make people stop using drugs,” explains Jose Ferreria, an officer in Lisbon’s drug squad. “it’s not a fight we can win.”

The government realized this and decided to do something that was considered extremely radical. They decriminalized everything, allowing citizens to carry small amounts of any drugs, including heroin. The idea was that casual users would be permitted to do their thing, while time, money and resources would be concentrated on helping (rather than prosecuting) addicts.

Since 2001, state-sponsored outreach workers have patrolled the streets, offering users clean needles and pipes. They call this ‘harm reduction.’ Portugal now spends 90% of its drug-related resources on treatment and only 10% on policing and punishment. In the USA, it’s the reverse.



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