Tag: usa drug usage

Decriminalizing Drug Usage in the US

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all forms of drugs. If you’re caught using drugs, instead of being punished and sent to jail, you’re forced to appear in front of a judge, a psychologist and doctors who create a mandatory treatment plan. Portugal uses a holistic approach that treats drug users as patients, rather than criminals. Ten years on, they’ve seen incredible results.  From Business Insider:

  1. 50% reduction in drug addicts
  2. Drug usage is among the lowest in EU
  3. Drug related health problems like overdoses and STDs are down even more than usage rates

Government officials believe they’ve seen these incredible results because drug users are more willing to seek help because they’re not scared of going to jail. Users go to the doctor more often and are given more opportunities to get into programs to get off drugs. It’s still illegal to sell drugs and Portugal punishes dealers, but simple drug use is treated as a public health issue.

Contrast Portugal’s amazing success to the huge problems we face in the US.  Some stats from Time’s Fareed Zakaria:

  • There are more people under ‘correctional supervision’ than were in the Gulag under Stalin
  • The US has 760 prisoners per 100k citizens. Japan, 63, Germany 90, France 96, South Korea 97, UK 125, Mexico 208, Brazil 242.
  • US makes up 5% of world population but 25% of world’s prisoners
  • In 1980 prison population was 150 per 100k citizens. Now it’s 760.
  • Drug convictions 1980, 15 inmates per 100k. 1996 148.
  • 50% of federal inmates are drug related convictions
  • 1.66m arrested in 2009 for drug charges. 80% are for possession only.
  • It costs California $45,000 per year to house a prisoner

The war on drugs has been a colossal failure. We’ve spent trillions of dollars, imprisoned millions and wrecked the lives of many more. And it doesn’t even work! In 2010, we had the highest drug usage rate in years.  And that’s just in the US. The war on drugs has caused incredible violence in Mexico, where over 50,000 people were killed since the latest drug crackdown.

There’s something wrong with a society when 760 out of every 100,000 people are in prison.  When we punish people rather than finding solutions and let people suffer as drug addicts rather than helping them. It’s morally wrong and cannot be justified by public safety, economics or any other measurable data.  The only reason we’re still on this path is that people say “drugs are bad, lets punish people as a deterrent.” This argument does not hold water.

It’s time to stop treating drug users as criminals and get them the help they need to get off drugs. Let’s stop wrecking families by sending a drug user off to prison. Lets have some compassion and treat drug use as a public health issue, a disease, rather than something that should be punished. It’s amazing what happens when you treat the source of the problem, rather than punishing the consequences. If we even have half the success that Portugal had with its policy, the USA will be much better off.

What do you think?