The story behind Portugal’s decriminalization of personal drug use

I have mentioned before Portugal’s bold move in 2001 to decriminalize personal possession of drugs and how that led to a reduction in heroin use and deaths in its population that had reached epidemic proportions, not to mention the elimination of all the waste in policing and financial resources that goes into arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people who use drugs.

This video explains how it came about that Portugal took this step.


  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Thanks for this. I wasn’t aware of Portugal’s drug policies at all. It’s especially interesting to see the 6/million vs 245/million stat.

    That’s 1 death per 4000 residents every single year in the US -- and that doesn’t even count the drop in murder rate (if any) that we might expect to come with decriminalization.

    Just think of saving 239 lives per million residents * 325 million residents in the US means saving 107,000 lives each and every year. Think of the property crime prevented with people no longer motivated to steal copper or burgle homes to pay for a drug habit. Think of the money saved in the jails and prisons. This video din’t mention the economics of the Portuguese policy, but I bet a comprehensive analysis would show that society as a whole saves more money than the increase in spending on treatment costs so we could actually prevent 107,000 deaths per year ***for free*** compared with the cost of current responses.

    It’s just … unfathomable.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    CD @1:

    It’s just … unfathomable.

    Isn’t it the same twisted morality that prevents things like minimum basic income, providing housing for the homeless, and so on being implemented? All these things would certainly save a lot of suffering and humiliation, and almost certainly save money. But they’re “entitlements” for the “undeserving”. The “deserving” being the arseholes who plunder, and pass laws legalizing plunder.

  3. says

    The US simply cannot claim to be geniunely concerned about social outcomes while it’s worrying about relatively small impact of drugs and ignoring the massive impact of firearm and policing-related deaths.

  4. Dunc says

    Think of the money saved in the jails and prisons.

    Won’t somebody of the shareholders in the private prison industry!

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Dunc
    Not just the private prison industry.

    Legalizing drugs in the USA could destabilize the entire economy. Think of all the DEA and Drug Enforcement Unit workers laid off. Consider police forces going bankrupt without all those civil seizures, all the bail bond agents in penury. Parole officers paroled.

    Courts and jails closed for lack of business. Thousands of drug dealers on the dole with their lawyers back chasing ambulances. Come to think of it even ambulence staff seeing redundencies.

    And let us not forget the score, nay hundreds, nay thousands of preachers having to rework their sermons and screeds.

    It strikes at the very heart of America!

  6. says

    In my own country of Switzerland, very similar decriminalization and health-care focused policies were implemented much earlier, though not nationally but only locally in the city of Zurich: in 1994, the city became “the first place in the world where therapy programs handed out heroin prescriptions to heavy and long-term opiate users for whom other substitutes wouldn’t work.” In a few years, they had virtually eliminated what was at the time the biggest drugs open scene in Europe, and the striking success of the local authorities’ policies were quickly enshrined into federal law (and let me tell you, this is a pretty conservative country!). When I moved there for my studies in 1998 I could hardly see any traces of the then-legendary Platzspitz square open scene. See here:

    US can learn a lot from Zurich about how to fight its heroin crisis

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