July 5, 2009 – 10:52 PM – Prescription painkillers made her retch. Muscle relaxants ravaged her liver. So Jean Marlowe put down her pills and rolled a joint.Picture 12

“I tried marijuana, and in five minutes, my stomach stopped shaking for the first time in five years,” said Marlowe, who has used marijuana as medicine since a doctor recommended the drug in 1990. “It really does work.”

The founder and executive director of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients’ Network, Marlowe is asking state lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana use. The bill is currently in the House of Representatives’ Health Committee, and two of Gaston County’s three House delegates who serve on the committee have indicated they would likely vote against it.

House Bill 1380, the N.C. Medical Marijuana Act, would allow patients access to medical-grade cannabis with a signed statement from a physician. Growers and dispensaries would be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“All of these people who have been kindly, caringly, lovingly sticking their necks out to grow a little bit of high-quality medication for patients could actually come forward and get a license and be legal,” Marlowe said.

North Carolina would become the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana and would see estimated annual tax revenues of $60 million within four years of the bill’s passage.

No local support

Reps. Wil Neumann and Pearl Burris Floyd said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would have to approve marijuana for medical use before they would consider writing an exception into the state’s cannabis ban.

“The FDA needs to make the determination of whether it has medical benefits or not,” Neumann said. “I would not favor it until the FDA comes out and wants it properly cultivated and harvested for medicinal properties.”

Marijuana faces a political minefield in the fight for federal recognition. The FDA discounted its potential medical application in a 2006 review, contradicting a 1999 study from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine that found it “moderately well suited” for treating certain conditions.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls marijuana the nation’s most abused illicit drug and classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance, indicating “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Floyd challenges those who support medical marijuana to seek FDA approval.

“It would be nearly impossible to regulate an illegal recreational drug even with a good doctor’s prescription,” she said in an e-mail. “If it is such a great idea and an untapped source of revenue, then it would meet the rigors of the FDA approval process.”

Rep. William A. Current said he is “skeptical” of medical marijuana but has not studied the issue enough to have an informed opinion.

“I just haven’t heard enough to reach any kind of decision on it, but from what I know, I would be hesitant to open this door unless we had really tight controls,” he said.

Current, a private-practice dentist, said he would rely more on medical and scientific evidence than personal feelings when deciding which way to vote.

“I think the medical community is going to have to step up on this issue and help make this decision,” he said. “People in political realms are not equipped to make these decisions without their guidance.”

Marijuana as medicine

Marijuana is “moderately well-suited for particular conditions” including nausea and vomiting from cancer patients’ chemotherapy and the rapid loss of body weight known as “wasting” in AIDS patients, according to the 1999 Institute of Medicine study, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base.”

Long lists of side effects accompany many prescription drugs, and overdosing can be fatal. Advocates say by comparison, cannabis offers a safe alternative to pharmaceuticals.

“There are no side effects that are harmful,” Marlowe said. “There has been over 5,000 years of documented medical use of cannabis, and not a single death has ever occurred.”

Marlowe said a user would have to smoke 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes – a physical impossibility – to ingest a toxic dose.

“There is no such thing as a lethal dose,” she said.

Muscle relaxants can weaken patients by gnawing away at their muscle tissue, Marlowe said, but cannabis allows them to maintain their strength.

“Almost every one of the muscle relaxers helps with muscle spasms, but they also atrophy the muscle over a period of time,” she said. “One unique property of cannabis is it can stop smooth muscle spasms while maintaining the muscle mass.”

Marijuana increases users’ heart rates and may decrease blood pressure, according to a 2001 American Medical Association report. It can impair short-term memory, motor skills, reaction time and information processing skills. Chronic users can experience withdrawal symptoms, but doctors conclude that cannabis is less addictive than alcohol and tobacco products.

“Although some marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of alcohol and nicotine, and the abstinence syndrome is less severe,” the AMA states in Report Six of the Council on Scientific Affairs.

In the 2001 report, AMA doctors encouraged researchers to develop a smoke-free inhaled delivery system for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana.

“Like tobacco, chronic marijuana smoking is associated with lung damage, increased symptoms of chronic bronchitis, and possibly increased risk of lung cancer,” the report states.

Marlowe refutes the belief that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to try more harmful substances. She points to members of the N.C. Cannabis Patients’ Network who were formerly prescribed heavy-duty painkillers.

“Not only have none of them gone to hard drugs, they’ve all come off of narcotics,” she said. “Marijuana is not a gateway drug. The most recognizable, easiest gateway drug that most people run into is tobacco.”

A continuing crusade

An institute in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park processes and distributes medical marijuana to select participants in a nationwide federal study, according to the text of HB 1380. Meanwhile, the 386 patients of the N.C. Cannabis Patients’ Network cannot legally obtain the drug themselves.

“Our oldest patient is an 86-year-old World War II veteran who suffered nerve damage to his feet from the heavy packs he carried during the war,” Marlowe said. “Now he’s suffering, and he has to be considered a criminal.”

Marlowe, too, has been considered a criminal for her medical use of marijuana. The Mill Spring resident said she uses the drug to treat her numerous medical conditions, including muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

She was arrested in 1998 when U.S. Customs agents intercepted a package of cannabis she ordered from a farm in Switzerland.

A judge sentenced her to six months on house arrest and two years of probation, but Marlowe was soon convicted of a probation violation because of her continued marijuana use.

She spent 10 months in a federal prison camp in West Virginia.

“It’s been a battle,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years.”

HB 1380’s future is uncertain. Health Committee members did not vote on the bill after a June 18 hearing, which included testimony from Marlowe and other NCCPN patients.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), said he will seek a vote to move the bill out of committee without prejudice. The Health Committee would not vote on the bill’s merits, but majority approval would allow it to proceed to the House Finance Committee.

“It’s just one step closer to a full debate on the floor, and that’s what I really desire more than anything,” Jones said. “Every time the public hears more about this, many myths are dispelled, and we see an increase in support.”

Jones also filed a companion bill, HB 1383, which proposes a referendum on medical marijuana. The mechanism for licensing growers and dispensaries is identical to the one proposed in HB 1380.

“There are those who continue to feel some trepidation about it because it’s a political liability,” he said. “One option would be to allow the citizens of the state of North Carolina to vote on it.”

You can reach Corey Friedman at 704-869-1828.


Since 1996, 14 states have passed laws allowing medical use of marijuana:

– Alaska
– California
– Colorado
– Hawaii
– Maine
– Maryland
– Michigan
– Montana
– Nevada
– New Mexico
– Oregon
– Rhode Island
– Vermont
– Washington

SOURCE: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

By Corey Friedman. Source.


THE drug war policy wonks are in retreat. The UN’s World Drug Report makes this clear.

Released last month in Washington by the head of the UN Office on Drugs and war-on-drugsCrime, with new US government drug tsar Gil Kerlikowske, the report has direct implications for all countries.

The report reveals that a significant shift is occurring in the way the world controls drugs. The ambition of ending drug use through law enforcement is giving way to a sobering realisation that we need to reduce demand for drugs, decrease incarceration of drug users and increase drug treatment programs.

The report warns against using law enforcement as a blunt instrument and calls for “universal access to drug treatment to save lives and reduce demand”. Kerlikowske, newly appointed head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, has recently said we should “completely and forever end the war analogy, the war on drugs”. Based on 100-year-old policy architecture, it has failed to eradicate the illicit drug trade, conservatively estimated to be worth more than $320 billion a year.

As a result, we are confronted with regional and national HIV epidemics driven by illicit injecting drug use. The UNODC report records injecting drug use in 148 countries, covering 95 per cent of the world’s population.

Just as we live in a global economy, so we live in a global illicit economy. While Australia doesn’t have the crack cocaine problems found in the US or Britain, it does have different drug problems, particularly with opiates and amphetamines.

In Australia, we had a clever government approach to drugs. Officially called Tough on Drugs, tabloid-style drug war rhetoric was matched with investment in treatment programs. The government sensibly invested resources in the diversion of drug users away from the criminal justice system and into the drug treatment system.

The public machismo of drug war rhetoric was matched with the quiet national funding of evidence-based and sensible interventions, such as opioid substitution treatments and needle and syringe programs.

Australia’s Howard government spending was built on a solid policy foundation. Since 1985 Australia has relied on a strategy with three key elements to address illicit drugs: demand reduction, supply reduction and interventions to reduce the harm when drug use does occur, commonly known as harm reduction.

A Howard government-funded study showed that during a decade harm reduction programs significantly reduced the need for health services, saving $7.7 million. Here lies the reason the Howard government’s investment in harm reduction, based on needle and syringe programs, existed under the banner of Tough on Drugs.

While a drug strategy based on supply, demand and harm reduction sounds balanced, the devil is in the detail. Nearly 50 per cent of all drug strategy funding is still spent on law enforcement and only 3 per cent on harm reduction. Most of the demand and harm reduction budget for drugs is dispersed through the Council of Australian Governments’ new National Health Care Agreement. The quantum of money to health generally has increased to record high levels under the Rudd government, to be dispersed by the states and territories under broad agreements with the federal government.

The problem with these new agreements is they do not have key performance indicators for demand and harm reduction programs or for communicable diseases such as HIV. They also do not insist that specific funds be attributed to programs that meet nationally agreed targets for our illicit drugs strategy.

The risk to our drug control efforts is therefore twofold: John Howard didn’t have the spending balance right between supply, demand and harm reduction, and specific accountabilities are not enshrined in the new healthcare agreements.

There is little political glory in funding drug addiction services and HIV prevention.

Weak political constituencies in these areas make funding a constant vulnerability. This encourages state treasuries to take a reactive approach to spending, moving further away from funding the drugs area proactively andadequately, pending another HIV or drug crisis.

At the local level, police and drug treatment and social welfare programs will often work together to reduce harm associated with drug use. However, the lack of key performance indicators in healthcare agreements, poor access to training and workforce development, and high levels of workforce attrition mean that cross disciplinary collaboration on a long-term basis is at risk.

By John Ryan. Source.

July 3, 2009 – At “The End of the World” I met Maria. Beneath a tent of blankets on a steep bank, surrounded by discarded syringes and blood, she unfolded her foil andeaston_end_world595 proceeded to smoke heroin.

The district in which she lives near Lisbon gained its name and reputation from illegal drugs. But as I sat on a rock and watched her daily ritual, I was aware that Maria is part of an extraordinary and controversial experiment. In almost every other place in the world, what she is doing is crime. Here, though, she can be confident her drug use will not end in prison.

Exactly eight years ago today, on July 1st 2001, Portugal decreed that the purchase, possession and use of any previously-illegal substance would no longer be considered a criminal offence. So, instead of police arresting users, at The End of the World, health and social workers now dispense the paraphernalia of heroin use.

Paula Vale de Andrade told me how her “street teams” have been able dramatically to cut HIV infections and drug deaths since the new law.

“When drug use was a crime, people were afraid to engage with the teams. But since decriminalisation, they know the police won’t be involved and they come forward. It has been a great improvement.”

Many had predicted disaster – that plane loads of “drug tourists” would descend on Portugal knowing that they couldn’t end up in court. But what one politician called “the promise of sun, beaches and any drug you like” simply hasn’t materialised.

In fact, overall drug consumption appears stable or down – government statistics suggest a 10% fall.

Among teenagers, the statistics suggest that the use of every illicit substance has fallen. The table below is from the Cato Institute’s white paper Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies.
Picture 10
I know there is some doubt over the methodology used in compiling some of these data, but what strikes me is that there is absolutely no evidence that drug use has risen.

Drug trafficking remains a serious criminal offence: Portugal hasn’t legalised drugs. But people caught with a quantity of drugs deemed for their personal use (roughly ten days’ supply) are sent to a local dissuasion commission panel.

The one I attended consisted of a social worker and a legal expert and they were looking at the case of Joanna, a heroin addict. The commission has the power to issue fines – while no longer a criminal offence, possession is still prohibited in Portugal – but the user here is addicted to drugs, so a fine is ruled inapplicable. The commission encourages her to go into treatment by offering to suspend other sanctions.

Some remain unconvinced that the new philosophy is working. The police officers I met on patrol in one of Lisbon’s more “notorious” districts question the statistics, particularly the suggestion that decriminalising drugs has caused drug use to fall. There is clearly frustration that people who were villains yesterday are victims today. But there’s also annoyance that in roughly a third of cases, drug users fail to attend the commission hearings when police send them there.

In the eight years since Portugal shocked the world with its drug policy, the idea that users need care not punishment has swept across Europe. In 10 EU countries, possession of some, if not all illegal substances is not generally pursued as a crime. In Britain, while officially the use of banned drugs is a criminal offence, Ministry of Justice figures (cited in UK Focal Point report [908Kb PDF]) show that 80% of people dealt with for possession are given a warning or a caution. Less than 1% – around 1,000 people a year – go to jail.

Picture 11
Portugal’s government is proud of its drugs policy. The prime minister stresses his personal role in its introduction, claiming the results are conclusive and the philosophy is popular.

Some question aspects of the system, but what Portugal’s controversial experiment has demonstrated is that, if you take the crime out of drug use, the sky doesn’t fall in. Source.

June 27, 2009 – To quote Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows” – and according to media reports, everybody knows Michael Jackson abused michael-jackson-neverland-foreclosureprescription medications – legal medications that most likely brought about his death. Was Michael a troubled soul? It appears so. Were laws bent or broken in providing his access to these drugs? Possibly. Recent news reports suggest Hollywood has a plethora of licensed medical doctors who provide and some say “push” prescription drugs onto celebrities.

Should we judge Michael harshly for choosing to use drugs to deal with his personal challenges? Of course not – we should mourn his loss, celebrate his creativity and feel gratitude for the gifts he gave us. However there arises a nagging question – as a caring community, did we fail Michael? Could we have done better? What can we learn from his tragic story?

As we shine our collective lights on Michael Jackson’s life not only do we see an extremely talented individual but we also see a man struggling to make good choices in his life. And like many millions of others of us who choose to medicate with drugs to deal with our life’s challenges – be they legal or illegal – Michael Jackson’s choice of powerful prescription pain killers reminds us that none are immune to getting lost on the path of life and making a fatal choice.

So what is society’s responsibility? How can we help others from meeting a similar end? One important tool we have at our disposal is our drug policies. An recent experience has taught us that implementing strict approaches like prohibitions and imprisonment don’t work. America already arrests one of its citizens every 43 seconds for illegal drug possession and incarcerates more of its people than any other country in the world. Recent reports inform us that now many more deaths occur in America from the abuse of legal prescription drugs than illegal drugs and in fact, prescription drugs are the second leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. These are drugs approved for sale and prescribed by medical doctors. In light of Michael Jackson’s death, how can we continue to differentiate between the abuse of legal and illegal drugs? Which issue is more important – the legality of the drug he used or the outcome of the abuse?

To this point, a recent U.N. Global Drug Report urges global leaders to stop viewing illegal drug abuse as a criminal matter – an approach that judges and vilifies those using drugs. Rather the report’s authors encourage us to view drug abuse for what it is – a health matter – one that can severely impact emotional, physical and psychological health. Impacts that became painfully obvious in the final years of Michael Jackson’s life.

The implications of the U.N.’s recommendations are dramatic. Rather than using our limited resources to wage war on our citizens, throwing them in jail for using illegal drugs to self treat their ailments, we need to shift those resources and our approach to addressing and treating the root causes and effects of drug abuse. This will not be easy.

America does not have a public health care system, so for many Americans access to professional advice can be very costly. This is partly why some people choose to access illegal drugs instead legal drugs in the first place. Furthermore, we need to appreciate that by making certain classes of drugs illegal we socially vilify and marginalize the populations of individuals who self-medicate with those illegal drugs – and consequently, even if they are able to afford it, they often do not seek the necessary medical services that could help them assess and manage their drug use.

It’s time for major change. Our communities are littered with too many sad stories and bad outcomes from untreated drug abuse. It’s time to stop differentiating between illegal and legal drug use and begin to see all drug users as people in need of health services and compassionate support. Michael Jackson’s death is a stark reminder that we in society can judge and marginalize even our most precious contributors. Let’s celebrate Michael’s life by approaching others facing life’s challenges with acceptance, compassion and support. Let’s face it – the absence of this compassion is likely at the root of why drugs are abused in the first place.

By Richard Sharp.

June 25, 2009 – Anything goes in the “war on drugs,” or so it seems. Governments around the world have used it as an excuse for unchecked human rights abuse and irrational policies based on knee-jerk reactions rather than scientific evidence. war-on-drugs-1This has caused tremendous human suffering. It also undermines drug control efforts.

That human rights abuses are widespread is no secret. Nor is frivolous rejection by many governments of proven, effective strategies to protect the health of drug users and communities. Both have been well documented.

In 2003, law enforcement officials in Thailand killed more than 2,700 people in the government’s “war on drugs.” More than 30 U.N. member states, including China, Indonesia and Malaysia, retain the death penalty for drug offenses — some as a mandatory sentence — in violation of international law. In Russia, untold thousands of heroin users cannot obtain opioid substitution treatment because the government has banned methadone, despite its proven effectiveness.

In the United States — and many other countries — prisons are overflowing because drug users are routinely incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. These prisoners often have no access to effective drug treatment or basic medical care. In Colombia, Afghanistan and other countries, crop eradication has pushed thousands of poppy and coca farmers and their families deeper into poverty without offering them any alternative livelihood and has damaged their health.

In China, hundreds of thousands of drug users are forced into drug detoxification centers, where they can be detained for up to three years without trial, treatment, or due process. In India people are dying in uncontrolled detoxification programs.

The “war on drugs” has distracted countries from their obligation to ensure that narcotic drugs are available for medical purposes. As a result, 80 percent of the world population — including 5.5 million cancer patients and 1 million terminally ill AIDS patients — has no access to treatment for severe pain. Strong pain medications are almost unavailable in most African countries. In India alone some 1 million cancer patients endure severe pain; most have no access to appropriate medications because of restrictions on prescribing them.

Such failure by the governments to ensure access to controlled medicines for pain relief or to treat drug dependence may violate international conventions proscribing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover scarce resources are being diverted from effective treatment to programs with no proven efficacy.

This is not only a human rights problem: It is bad public policy. Research shows that abusive drug control practices, including mass incarceration, are ineffective in controlling illicit drug consumption and drug-related crime, and in protecting public health. Scientific evidence has shown that more supportive “harm-reduction” programs prevent HIV among injection drug users, protect people’s health and lower future health costs. And for those with untreated pain, ignoring their needs removes them and their caregivers from productive life.

In March 2009, the United Nations met in Vienna to set new drug policies for the next 10 years. Sadly, the strategy adopted by member states contains scant human rights commitments. It congratulates the international community for what it says are successes of the past 10 years of drug policy, without mentioning its collateral damage. It proposes to continue those policies, with little change, for the next 10 years.

On Friday, the United Nations observes both the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. As the U.N. special rapporteurs on health and torture, we take this occasion to urge member states to end abusive policies and to create drug policies based on human rights that include harm reduction, access to evidence-based drug treatment and essential medicines, and protections against torture in law enforcement.

Too many lives are at stake for the current head-in-the-sand politics, and if the United Nations and member states continue to bury their heads, they will be complicit in the abuses. Source.

24 June 2009 – Amid an increasingly brutal struggle for a bigger slice of the $50 billion global cocaine market between Central American drug 24-06-2009drugscartels, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned that legalizing narcotics would be an “historic mistake,” in a call for a global boost in drug treatment and crime control.
UNODC Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, acknowledged that laws controlling narcotics have created a huge black market for illicit drugs that thrives on violence and corruption.

However, “a free market for drugs would unleash a drug epidemic,” said Mr. Costa, as UNODC launched its 2009 World Drug Report today in Washington, DC.

“Proponents of legalization can’t have it both ways,” he said. “Legalization is not a magic wand that would suppress both mafias and drug abuse.”

Mr. Costa stressed that attempts to remove drug-related crime by decriminalizing illicit drugs – as some have suggested – would be an “historic mistake” because of the danger narcotics pose to health.

“Societies should not have to choose between protecting public health or public security. They can, and should, do both,” he said in a call for more resources for drug prevention and treatment, and stronger measures to fight drug-related crime.

The international cocaine market is undergoing seismic shifts, with purity levels and seizures in the main consumer countries going down, prices on the rise, and consumption patterns in a state of flux, noted Mr. Costa. “This may help explain the gruesome upsurge of violence in countries like Mexico. In Central America, cartels are fighting for a shrinking market.”

Over 40 per cent of the world’s cocaine is seized, mostly in Colombia, compared to less than 20 per cent of opiates – opium, morphine and heroin – captured, according to the World Drug Report.

In West Africa, a major transportation hub for trafficking to Europe, a decline in seizures seems to reflect lower cocaine flows after five years of rapid growth, the report said.

“International efforts are paying off,” said Mr. Costa, who launched the report along with newly appointed Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske. Yet drug-related violence and political instability continue, especially in Guinea-Bissau, he added.

“As long as demand for drugs persists, weak countries will always be targeted by traffickers,” said Mr. Costa, adding that if “Europe really wants to help Africa, it should curb its appetite for cocaine.”

The new UNODC study reported that opium cultivation in Afghanistan, where 93 per cent of the world’s total is grown, declined by 19 per cent in 2008, and Colombia, which produces half of the world’s cocaine, saw an 18 per cent decline in cultivation and a 28 per cent decline in production.

“The more opium is seized in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood, the less heroin on the streets of Europe, and vice versa, the less heroin is consumed in the West, the more stability there will be in West Asia,” said Mr. Costa who plans to bring the message to a Group of Eight industrialized nations (G-8) ministerial conference on Afghanistan later this week in Italy.

Mr. Kerlikowske said that US President Barack Obama’s Administration is “committed to expanding demand reduction initiatives,” adding that through “comprehensive and effective enforcement, education, prevention, and treatment, we will be successful in reducing illicit drug use and its devastating consequences.”

The Report provides a number of recommendations on how to improve drug control, including the treatment of drug use as an illness.

“People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution,” said Mr. Costa, appealing for universal access to drug treatment with the argument that people with serious drug problems provide the bulk of drug demand and treating this problem would contract the market.

Mr. Costa also called for an end of what he characterized as the “tragedy of cities out of control,” pointing out that most “drugs are sold in city neighbourhoods where public order has broken down. Housing, jobs, education, public services, and recreation can make communities less vulnerable to drugs and crime.”

Government enforcement of international agreements against organized crime, such as the UN Conventions against organized crime and corruption, and greater efficiency in law enforcement with a focus on the large volume of petty offenders, would also help international drug control efforts, he said.

Mr. Costa noted that in some countries, five times as many people are imprisoned for drug use compared to drug trafficking. “This is a waste of money for the police, and a waste of lives for those thrown in jail. Go after the piranhas, not the minnows.”


June 22, 2009 – Glenn Greenwald is a civil rights attorney, a blogger for Salon, and the author of a new Cato Institute policy study called “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Policies.” The paper examines Portugal’s 2944324647_66c24facabexperiment with decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, which began in 2001. Nick Gillespie, editor of reason.com and reason.tv, sat down with Greenwald in April.

Q: What is the difference between decriminalization and legalization?

A: In a decriminalized framework, the law continues to prohibit drug usage, but it’s completely removed from the criminal sphere, so that if you violate that prohibition or do the activity that the law says you cannot do you’re no longer committing a crime. You cannot be turned into a criminal by the state. Instead, it’s deemed to be an administrative offense only, and you’re put into an administrative proceeding rather than a criminal proceeding.

Q: What happened in Portugal?

A: The impetus behind decriminalization was not that there was some drive to have a libertarian ideology based on the idea that adults should be able to use whatever substances they want. Nor was it because there’s some idyllic upper-middle-class setting. Portugal is a very poor country. It’s not Luxembourg or Monaco or something like that.

In the 1990s they had a spiraling, out-of-control drug problem. Addiction was skyrocketing. Drug-related pathologies were increasing rapidly. They were taking this step out of desperation. They convened a council of apolitical policy experts and gave them the mandate to determine which optimal policy approach would enable them to best deal with these drug problems. The council convened and studied all the various options. Decriminalization was the answer to the question, “How can we best limit drug usage and drug addiction?” It was a policy designed to do that.

Q: One of the things you found is that decriminalization actually correlates with less drug use. A basic theory would say that if you lower the cost of doing drugs by making it less criminally offensive, you would have more of it.

A: The concern that policy makers had, the frustration in the 1990s when they were criminalizing, is the more they criminalized, the more the usage rates went up. One of the reasons was because when you tell the population that you will imprison them or treat them as criminals if they identify themselves as drug users or you learn that they’re using drugs, what you do is you create a barrier between the government and the citizenry, such that the citizenry fears the government. Which means that government officials can’t offer treatment programs. They can’t communicate with the population effectively. They can’t offer them services.

Once Portugal decriminalized, a huge amount of money that had gone into putting its citizens in cages was freed up. It enabled the government to provide meaningful treatment to people who wanted it, and so addicts were able to turn into non–drug users and usage rates went down.

Q: What’s the relevance for the United States?

A: We have debates all the time now about things like drug policy reform and decriminalization, and it’s based purely in speculation and fear mongering of all the horrible things that are supposedly going to happen if we loosen our drug laws. We can remove ourselves from the realm of the speculative by looking at Portugal, which actually decriminalized seven years ago, in full, [use and possession of] every drug. And see that none of that parade of horribles that’s constantly warned of by decriminalization opponents actually came to fruition. Lisbon didn’t turn into a drug haven for drug tourists. The explosion in drug usage rates that was predicted never materialized. In fact, the opposite happened.

Nick Gillespie. Source.