Keith Humphreys deconstructs a new Cato report on Portugal’s drug policy.
The most important point of context is to understand what Portugal actually did, which was to expand addiction treatment services and to reduce criminal penalties for drug users who possess small quantities of drugs. Such individuals are sent to a “dissuasion committee” which decides whether treatment, a fine or some other civil punishment is in order. Portuguese policy is therefore not “drug legalization”, because the production, manufacture and sale of drugs remain illegal. I do not blame the authors of the Cato Report for this, but as a factual matter, many media reports and activists have cited the report as “the definitive study of drug legalization”. That is simply wrong because drugs are not legalized in Portugal. Portuguese officials with whom I have spoken have expressed the same concern, namely that they are being said to have advanced a drug policy which they have not and do not support.
Further, the report (and most of the coverage) omit data points that hurt their case:
- Murders rose 41% from 2001 to 2006
- “Cocaine seizures in Portugal increased seven-fold between 2001 and 2006”
- “Portugal has the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users in the European Union”
- “2001 to 2007, the proportion of Portuguese people age 15-64 who used heroin in the past month doubled and the proportion who used cocaine tripled”
While omitting these data points, “The report also doesn’t do a sufficiently thorough job of examining alternative explanations for the findings, attributing all the positive effects noted to decriminalization.”
He closes with a point I’d also like to make: this post is not a condemnation of Portugal’s drug policy, rather it is a rejection an attempt to misrepresent a policy and its effects to advance their own biases.