Portugal and the drug war. Non sequitur?

Portugal’s drug policy has gotten a lot of press recently and it sounds like an approach that’s worth trying to learn from:

Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.

Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.

“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalisation but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”

Portugal’s holistic approach had also led to a “spectacular” reduction in the number of infections among intravenous users and a significant drop in drug-related crimes, he added.

A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.

Mark Kleiman isn’t impressed:

So what we learn from Portugal is that a relatively poor, small, homogeneous, culturally conservative country with a small illicit-drug problem will still have a small illicit-drug problem after it stops threatening users with criminal penalties and starts threatening them with administrative proceedings instead. Yawn. (More from Kleiman here.)

Keith Humphreys says that some of the triumphalism is rooted in distortions of the data.

Kleiman discusses drug policy in significant depth in this bloggingheads discussion. It will make you realize how rare a serious discussion of drug policy is.