August 14, 2002


Portugal assesses its softer approach to drug users : A year ago Lisbon decriminalized drug use. Views differ on whether the policy is effective. (Sara B. Miller, August 08, 2002, The Christian Science Monitor)
In the shadowy labyrinth of cobblestone streets around this port city's 12th-century cathedral, heroin addicts have long been selling drugs and shooting up.

Police had hoped that the narcotics-infested neighborhood would change after Portugal's decision to decriminalize the use of all drugs. But a year after the sweeping initiative took effect, they say the scene, and their jobs, have changed little. [...]

Portugal, a main gateway for drugs entering Europe, has among the highest per capita rates of hard drug use in the European Union, with an estimated 80,000 heroin addicts in a population of 10 million. Decriminalizing drug consumption was intended to attack the problem at its source: With users given treatment and education instead of jail time, police could devote more time and resources to catching traffickers.

While an evaluation to be released later this month by the nation's Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction points to some positive results over the past year, the frustrations, and the cost of the program, have some critics urging cutbacks.

"One of the most important things Portugal has learned this year is the importance of dissuasion," says Elza Pais, the president of the government-run drug institute.

Hard to see how legalization dissuades anyone. In fact, it does the opposite--conveying a cultural imprimatur. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2002 8:18 AM
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