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by Peter Moskos

December 28, 2010

Portugal's Drug Policy

The headline says: "Portugal's drug policy pays off; US eyes lessons." Of course it should probably say, "US ignores lessons."

I like pseudo neutral editor's note: "This is part of an occasional series by The Associated Press examining the U.S. struggles in its war on drugs after four decades and $1 trillion."

The story is here. I haven't read it yet, but I suspect it's good.

[Thanks to Sgt. T.]


Anonymous said...

"The Obama administration firmly opposes the legalization of drugs, saying that it would increase access and promote acceptance, according to drug czar Kerlikowske."

Translation: We don't get it. We don't want to get it. What about the children!

I agree with you, Peter. The Drug Czar will pretend to listen, spout of some feel good rhetoric and then do nothing. If he was really interested in a more cogent drug policy, he would be asking the president to get the federal government out of drug poliy. In fact, he could star by offering his resignation and asking that the post be eliminated.

Dave H- IL

Anonymous said...

Hate to throw water on this feel good article but we really need truth and not "journalism" that supports a pre-determined opinion. The AP's seems to have chosen it's opinion and is producing
"journalism" to support it. "AP IMPACT: After 40 years, America’s drug war failing on all fronts"

Try this article for a little more information on Portugal's success:

The Mendoza AP article is full of ridiculous fluff about Casal Ventoso as a paradise of mothers pushing baby strollers down cobbled streets vs the old Casal Ventoso "drug supermarket." She attributes this change to drug legalization. She neglected to mention all the government construction which changed the infrastructure of the area and had nothing to do with drug legalization. Mendoza also fails to mention Intendente, another part of Lisbon which is now bearing the brunt of displacement of addicts from Casal Ventoso. Sounds like a shell game.

Since Portugese drug legalization:
Drug mortality - up
Violent crime - up
Drug use - up
Cocaine use - doubled
Murder - up 40%

That is a European definition of success.

As I've said before, we can greatly expand drug treatment while leaving existing laws in place. This would give us the same positive effects as Portugal's experiment but also keep pressure on the drug trade and signal society's lack of acceptance of drug use.


BTW-Scam money-making maintenance treatments are destroying what was once a highly ethical profession.

PCM said...


I'm just going to fact check one important fact: homicides in Portugal up 40% since their change in drug policy.

If it's not true, I'm discounting every other "fact" you mention.

If it is true, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. My good money is that it's not true.

PCM said...

Here’s a good lesson: Don't believe drug prohibitionists. They lie.

40% increase in homicides simply doesn't pass the sniff test. Of course you can certainly find the 40% number on line, but it's not true.

Look, both prohibitionists and legalizers emphasize the numbers that help their cause, but only prohibitionists straight up and constantly lie. At least legalizers make the attempt to be honest. I've yet to find a stat on drugwarfacts.org, for instance, that was simply made up.

Of course we can quibble about what years to compare. And I’ve got better things to do right now. But here’s what I’ve found.

For 2006 to 2008, the homicide rate for Portugal was 1.46 (and Lisbon is 0.64). That is an incredibly low rate.

From 2003 to 2005, the homicide rate for Portugal was 1.36 and for Lisbon it was just 0.6. That's less than a 10% increase (which basically means nothing). And still a rate a small fraction of America’s. Just think: Baltimore has a homicide rate that is 60 times higher than Lisbon.

But I did find one article that lists Portugal's average homicide rate from 1964 to 1995. That's one base to compare to. And it’s 1.78. So homicide is still historically how.[source: Rossow I. "Alcohol and homicide: a cross-cultural comparison of the relationship in 14 European countries." Addiction, 2001, 96 (Supplement 1):S77–92.]

OK. I found one more thing. This is better. Between 1997 and 2001, the homicide rate was 1.17. And guess what, in 2008, the homicide rate was... 1.17! No joke (down considerable from 2007, by the way). So there you go.

Depends on how you want to twist the numbers, homicides in Portugal are up a bit recently or unchanged since 2000 (which I think is the start date of their new drug policy).

"High-crime drug-free" Lisbon is a failure? With failure like that... who needs success?

All that said, I don't think Portugal is a complete success. You know from reading my blog that I'm skeptical of "treatment," too. I want to legalize drug selling, not just drug use. The violence is in the selling.

And even if the stats on Portugal are a wash with regards to drug policy, it’s still a great success for legalization because they're saving money and not throwing people in jail. They stopped the war on drugs and the sky didn't fall! That’s the real lesson.

Anonymous said...

Per Ed: "...and signal society's lack of acceptance of drug use.

Hey Ed, society can disapprove of drug use all it wants. That doesn't mean we should use the coercive power of government to incarcerate people for their choices. Society and government are different (see Thomas Paine).

Hey PCM, nice refutation of Ed's erroneous murder stats!

Dave H- IL

PCM said...

warning, comments seem effed up right now, for technical reasons that have nothing to do with me!

PCM said...

This was a comment from Ed. I have no idea why the blogger ghosts won't let it published. Maybe it will work now:

Hi Peter,
I'm not sure if you're calling me a liar, but here's my source which was also in my previous post.

More specifically:
"Violent crime, too, has risen since the law's passage. According to a 2009 report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Portugal's drug-use and murder rates rose in the years after decriminalization. The general rise in drug use was in keeping with European trends, but the
U.N. noted with some alarm that cocaine use doubled and cocaine
seizures jumped sevenfold from 2001to 2006.

Murders rose 40% in the period. The report tentatively links that with drug trafficking, but points out overall murder rates in Portugal remain low."

The numbers that I was able to get directly from UN documents were:2000-1.2, 2003-1.4, 2004-1.4, 2005-1.3, 2006-1.4, 2007-1.7, 2008-1.2

Now I'm not sure if the WSJ writer is a "prohibitionist" or what UN report she is referencing but her article was written July 20,2010. I'll assume she was speaking of the 2000-2007 murder increase which is about 40%, but I'm sure you won't give her that. Meanwhile murder is down in '08 and I hope it continues.

Cocaine use - doubled
http://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2010/World_Drug_Report_2010_lo-res.pdf Page 14
If that change were to be directly linked to the new law would you have second thoughts?

Another bit from the above source (pg 96) In 2007, seven years into this great experiment Portugal had by far the highest rate of cocaine deaths per 100,000 in all of Europe. (.96)

I guess your strongest objection to my post is that it contains "lies". I had initially objected to the article because of what I consider the lie in it's title and openning. I wish you would be a little more open minded about lies used by legalizers also.

Hi Dave H. - The libertarian argument against drug laws is the only persuasive one I've heard. The problem is, some people are unable to stop using drugs once they use for a time. This hurts other people too. I've said numerous times that we should greatly expanded treatment but leave drug laws alone. The fact is many people are "sentenced" to treatment not jail. The problem is we don't have effective treatment.


PCM said...

And my response:

I was not at all calling you a liar. I always appreciate your comments.

I was, however, saying that the sources from you were citing are filled with lies. At least if they claim that stopping the drug war in Portugal has caused a 40% spike in murders. Where is this 40% increase? I just don't see it. Seriously. No two numbers give a 40% increase, right? I may be missing something.

But I've been in the game too long to believe crazy stats that come from drug prohibitionists.

Again, I think both sides twist data sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but the I've yet to see the pro-drug-legalization side just make shit up.

Also, I don't know Portugal well. I've never been there. I really have no idea how things are working out. But I do know Amsterdam pretty well. And I hear what people (who have no clue) say about the Dutch drug policy. So I certainly suspect similar lies from prohibitionists about Portugal.

Look, if crime really is exploding there because of their drug policy, then it's not a good policy. And the benefits of any policy that focuses only on users is going to be limited in what it can do.

I'll look over your links as soon as I can.

PCM said...


Now I see where 40% is coming from. The problem is it's not 40% (through from 2000 to 2007 it is close). But it's disingenuous to take an old number and then round them every way you want to come up with a number and round it some more.

In 2010, we know the 2008 numbers. So why use a 2007 that is very different? And why round it up to 40% when it's not true?

PCM said...

It's page 19, not 14.


Indeed, it says that overall cocaine use roughly doubled between 2001 and 2007.

That is certainly worthy of further investigation.

No time right now.

But I believe the Party Line is 1) it's still incredibly low so what's the problem? and 2) it's not up among youths, which is usually the group people care about.

Anonymous said...

All I'm trying to point out is that feel good articles like the AP one posted go unchallenged all the time and then become part of our national discussion:
"Portugal decriminalized and it is a complete success!"
This then drives policy makers to change U.S. policy.

I agree the cocaine stat needs more investigation, but if cocaine use doubled in the U.S. it would be a big problem. You would think this point alone would preclude the title "Portugal's drug policy pays off..." but not when the writer or editor has an agenda.

Happy New Year

PCM said...

I love skepticism and indeed it serves as a good check on all side.

But where is all this talk of drug reform that is driving policy makers to change US policy?

I don't see much change.

Anonymous said...

It's things like Pat Robertson saying people are getting ten years in prison for taking a few puffs of marijuana. Where does this non-sense come from?

I'm not saying he's a policymaker but he is influential and if he has been convinced of that lie how many others believe it coming from him?

Please also know that I'm not strongly against marijuana legalization, just the way the legalization lobby has lied their way towards it.


PCM said...

Well you don't hear me saying people are doing hard time for smoking a joint.

But consider this:

PCM said...

Happy New Year!

It's about time I stop working and start drinking.

Anonymous said...

If that guy doesn't have a record, do you think he'll do time? I will say no. Big difference between a charge and a conviction and a sentence.

But on that same page is the sad story of James Geddes who was imprisoned for "90 years - 5 plants" At least the article attached mentions that Geddes was also in possession of a firearm. But there's nothing in this sad story about the fact that Geddes was arrested while on parole, and had absconded from his parole. I'm not an expert on the Oklahoma equivalent of the CPL, but I think those factors affected his sentence.
Peter, in my opinion this is the type of lie that the legalization lobby pushes constantly, that just possessing marijuana puts people in prison, it is never ever that simple.