When I write about decriminalization and ending the War on Drugs, my libertarian friends cheer while my Republican friends roll their eyes and say “Oh, he’s talking that crazy talk again.” They tell me that decriminalizing drugs will cause drug usage to run rampant, that 12 year olds will be smoking marijuana, and that addiction rates will be at an all time high.
As if those things aren’t already true.
I always insist, as most libertarians do, that decriminalizing drugs isn’t an endorsement of drug usage, that addiction rates will come down, and that we’d spend a lot less money if we’d just pay for treatment for addicts.
(Those who say libertarians are never willing to compromise should take note: libertarians would gladly let government pay for addiction treatment for abusers instead of spending the money for prosecution and incarceration. A purely libertarian stance would be to decriminalize drugs and insist private charities handle drug rehab programs.)
On July 1, 2001, Portugal decided to give the libertarian approach a try: it decriminalized all drugs. Yes, marijuana, but also drugs like cocaine and heroin. Notice they didn’t legalize drugs; they decriminalized them. The difference is that while drug possession and usage is still banned, violations relating to personal usage are not prosecuted. Drug trafficking, on the other hand, is still prosecuted.
So, ten years after the decriminalization, Portugal was full of addicts and everyone was high all the time, right? Wrong.
According to health experts in portugal, the experiment has worked. Addictions were down about half – half – in a 10-year period. Awareness and prevention programs, along with the decriminalization, are suspected to have had a major impact in that drop.
Prohibition doesn’t work. It never will. We need to follow Portugal’s example on this issue. Drug usage will decrease; addictions will decrease; government spending will decrease, and freedom will increase.