In the 1990s, Portugal was faced with a drug epidemic. General drug use wasn’t any worse than neighboring countries, but rates of problematic drug use were off the charts. A 2001 survey found that 0.7 percent of its population had used heroin at least one time, the second highest rate after England and Wales in Europe. So, in 1998, Portugal appointed a special commission of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and activists to assess the problem and propose policy recommendations. Following eight months of analysis, the commission advised the government to embark on a radically different approach.
Rather than respond as many governments have, with zero-tolerance legislation and an emphasis on law enforcement, the commission suggested the decriminalization of all drugs, coupled with a focus on prevention, education, and harm-reduction. The objective of the new policy was to reintegrate the addict back into the community, rather than isolate them in prisons, the common approach by many governments. Two years later, Portugal’s government passed the commission’s recommendations into law.
Just as important as the specific policies recommended by the commission is an entirely different philosophy. Rather than treating addiction as a crime, it’s treated as a medical condition. João Goulão, Portugal’s top drug official, emphasizes that the goal of the new policy is to fight the disease, not the patients.
Decriminalization doesn’t mean legalization.
Legalization removes all criminal penalties for producing, selling, and possessing drugs whereas decriminalization eliminates jail time for drug users, but dealers are still criminally prosecuted. Roughly 25 countries have removed criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of certain or all drugs. No country has attempted full legalization.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, February 28, 2015