Lessons from Portugal: You need to go Further

There’s a very interesting post at LibCon discussing the last 8 years of Portugal’s experiment with decriminalising Drugs. Unfortunately it appears that this post has missed the mark on the most important concern for any drug policy: the supply chain.

Drug Wars For a post which repeatedly reaffirms its liberalism, it appears to take quite a dim view of drug use. As is made clear, the post avoids moralising on whether drug use in itself is good or bad, and I understand that from a public health point of view, reduced drug use, like reduced drinking or smoking, is a good thing. However, I think that rather too little attention is given to what can be called “global public health” than is warranted. For example, the public health that comes from not being kidnapped and murdered. [1] A fair drugs policy cannot only look at the law and order, public health and morality of a one country’s citizens, it must look to all of those who would be affected.

Our Own Doing

The major problems associated with drug use in the West are largely of our own doing, and spring from our own hypocrisy. Probably not you or I personally, but the hypocritical system which various Governments have imposed, and to which we pay tax. We have decided to pick and choose what we control, and as you can see, we have not been consistent or fair.

Drug Harm Lancet

The Portuguese approach appears far better than our own. Rather than our own method of treating drugs as a Criminal Justice issue they are treated as a Public Health issue. Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction are set up and made of three people – a social worker, legal advisor and medical professional – supported by technical experts.

Police refer drug users to these panels and they are then not dragged through the Criminal Justice system. Simultaneously, a range of public health initiative were introduced, including drugs education, rehabilitation and drug treatment programmes. Although the Cato Institute study reviewed at LibCon is not particularly compelling the worst that can be said of Portugal’s efforts is that they have only been slightly better than our own, the best is that it has greatly reduced herion use and HIV transmission.

However, the countries which are worst affected are not lucky enough to be able to chose their position, like the Portuguese. They have had it thrust upon them by our stupid Governments and our vainglorious desire for drugs, regardless of the human cost. It is for the sake of the people living where drugs are produced and trafficked that we need to condemn the Portuguese method.

Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, and Vietnam

El Universal began counting drug war executions four years ago. In 2007 over 2,700 people were executed in Mexico by drug gangs, by 2008 this had doubled to 5,612 people.

Although the efforts of the police in Portugal were shifted to tackling drug trafficking and smuggling, the fact that the Drug trade in Portugal remains illegal spells disaster for Mexico and the other dozen or so major drug producing countries.

So long as the drug trade remains illegal it will remain in the hands of murderous criminals. Unless demand drops to near zero there will be a profit to be made supplying drugs and if these drugs are illegal then violence is absolutely unavoidable.

This is where the countries listed above fall, unavoidably entwined in our drug use. No amount of harm reduction or violent crackdown will have an appreciable affect where it is most needed if it does not reduce demand. There is only one guaranteed method to improve the lives of those most adversely affected.

Legitimise the Supply Chain

Legalise, regulate and control. Without legalisation the supply chain will permeate violence through everything it touches. Without regulation and control there is no way to know what effect drugs would have on society at large.

A price can be set which would deter use but also undercut dealers. If a balance is struck there will not be a significant change to how affordable drugs but there will be a huge change in how it is supplied. Pharmacies would flourish and turf wars would terminate.

A legitimate market would be created not only removing millions from a criminal enterprise, but empowering as many in registered productive enterprises.

The problem with Portugal is that it is only treating a small part of a much large problem. I am sure that Martin Robbins agrees with some of the points I have made, but really feel that the discussion of drugs policy in this country is incredibly Myopic.

[1]I was going to post a specific story but I feel my point is better illustrated by the stream of google results available.

3 thoughts on “Lessons from Portugal: You need to go Further

  1. I don’t disagree with your post, but there are a couple of points which I feel are a bit unfair:

    1) I don’t particular “take a dim view of drug use”, I explained I didn’t in the comments to the original post, so it’s a little bit harsh to repeat the accusation here…

    2) The international drugs trade wasn’t in the scope of the post. I could equally start complaining that you’re being “myopic” here because you’ve not looked at the Western social implications in your post here, but that would be unfair because this is a post about the supply chain, just as my post was specifically in response to the Cato Institutes assertions about Portugal. We can’t all cover every aspect of an incredibly complex problem in every post! I waffle enough as it is.

    Other than those quibbles though, good piece, and yes it’s very important to look at the global ramifications of national drugs policy. Further to what you’ve said of course there are environmental consequences too, particularly in South America, which I’ve been meaning to write about for months now but haven’t gotten around to yet.

    1. Yeah, reading back through the comments you make it quite clear that you are a dyed in the wool liberal so I might need to revise this post a bit.

      I understand the idea that you could call my post myopic too, but I feel that the problems facing suppler countries make our domestic drug problems look fairly minor (though I am not denying the very real problems). Difficult to confront the whole subject in one post about a Cato Institute report but I felt it was a good opportunity to through my two pence worth in.

      There’s a blogs worth of posts on this subject and I am sure I will revisit this subject at some point in the future, I hope you do too.

  2. A little offtopic reply, Im using the new google chrome browser, but it looks like your website is not displaying correctly… Just to let you know. Thanks.

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