Portugal might not be the first country you think about when it comes to relaxed laws on drugs, but the country decriminalised drugs back in 2001, and unlike the punitive system that we have here in the UK, it’s actually working.
Whereas here, we’re seeing people turning psychotic after developing an addiction to spice, harmless people who are in pain being interrogated and sometimes even criminalised for smoking cannabis and a soaring drug-related death rate, in Portugal the opposite has been happening.
Since drugs were decriminalised there, which is not the same as being legalised (it should be noted), the number of drug overdoses and diseases caused by drugs have fallen, as has drug-related crime. It seems that allowing people to make their own choices really does work.
The change in Portugal’s law came about because the country was buckling under a huge heroin epidemic, in which a massive one percent of the country’s population were addicted. It was evident that their policy of prohibition might need a rethink.
Now, the stats are in, and Portugal has been shown to have the second lowest number of drug deaths in Europe. Approximately 3 in every million people in Portugal die as a result of drug taking, which is a staggeringly lower number than the 44 in a million who die here in the UK, where anything stronger than a cbd vape pen, even for pain management, if not prescribed, could see an otherwise law-abiding individual criminalized. This is most likely because addicts in Portugal can have their drugs tested by officials to ensure that they are safe to take, and they no longer have to risk getting their drugs from unsavoury characters.
Despite this, Dr João Goulão, the man who came up with the idea is not slow in pointing out that decriminalisation alone is not a panacea. It is, he points out, difficult to say for sure that there is a direct link between decriminalisation and the improvements Portugal has seen in this area, but the facts are pretty convincing.
Why No Decriminalisation in the UK?
The data coming out from Portugal also begs the question why our government here in the UK is so dead set against decriminalising even the least harmful of drugs like cannabis. Sure, a police chief in Durham has basically said that they won’t prosecute people who grow cannabis for their own use, but that’s just one area and one drug, and it is nowhere near being official government policy. So what gives?
Decriminalising even just cannabis, for example, would generate a huge amount of tax, at a time when the country arguably needs all the money it can get, pout dealers out of business and increase the safety of drug users, as well as the general population.
Unfortunately, the current government know that this is a divisive issue and they’re pretty reluctant to go there, even if that means ignoring the advice of eminent experts such as David Nutt, which means we are likely to be lagging behind other countries like Portugal for some time!