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by Peter Moskos

September 4, 2010

Good news in (ending) the war on drugs

From the UK's Observer (sister paper of The Guardian).



And three articles about the war on drugs, or lack thereof, in Portugal.

Drugs have not only been decriminalised for almost a decade, but users are treated as though they have a health and social problem.
Nor has it seen its addict population markedly increase. Rather it has stabilised in a nation that, along with the UK and Luxembourg, once had the worst heroin problem in Europe.
The approach to Portugal, which has seen a fall in levels of petty crime associated with addicts stealing to buy drugs, as well as a drop by a third in the number of HIV diagnoses among intravenous drug users, is significant. Despite decriminalisation, it levies more fines than the UK and drug use has not increased.
These days, addicts account for only 20% of those who are HIV infected, while the number of new HIV diagnoses of addicts has fallen to fewer than 2,000 a year.
The Portuguese experience again shows that there is no necessary link between the severity of sanctions and rates of drug use.
"You have to remember," he says, "that the substances are still illegal; it is the consequences that are different." And for those arrested in possession of drugs for personal use, that means not a court appearance but an invitation to attend a "dissuasion board" that can request – but not insist upon – attendance
A sociologist by training, Capaz is a vice-president on the board. He believes that far from Portugal becoming more lenient, the reality is that the state intervenes far more than it did before Law 30 and the other associated legislation was introduced. Before, he explains, police would often not pursue drug users they had arrested, interested only in the dealers. "People outside Portugal believe we had a tougher approach under the old law, but in reality it is far tougher now."
As fewer people were arrested for drug offences, the prison population fell. So did drug use and HIV among prisoners.
Politicians usually only suggest decriminalisation when they are either on the verge of retirement or at the fringes of power.

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