Drug Decriminalisation

Here is an interesting map (click to enlarge) of the current state of world drug decriminalisation for personal use:

I doubt many of us realise decriminalisation was so widespread (I didn’t) but it is clear that it is not only decriminalisation of drugs for personal use that provides the solution (indeed users must surely buy from a dealer?)

For me that indicates we have first to decriminalise cannabis as a base level drug. Yes, it is implicated in mental illness, but if it is state controlled it will be less potent and should be quality controlled. For, as I understand it ‘basic’ cannabis is not actually implicated in mental health. It is the powerful skunk with about three times the potency that gives the problem.

Now I confess I’m certainly not an expert, but having been in the alcohol trade for most of my life, I do understand that state supervision and tax helps in drug control – even in one so prevalent and long lasting as alcohol. And there is now a cannabis habit which I suggest is a tenancy likely also to last, legal or not, through the European population. So state supervision would not be a panacea – but it is a start.

It is interesting that much of South America has legalised drugs for personal use and it is, perhaps part of the result that they get exported to where they are not personally permitted and thus criminality is the route to success…

The European flagship is Portugal, where the decriminalisation in 2001 has been accompanied by health orientated social care – even under a broadly conservative government during the time. It is only since 2015 that Portugal has had an anti-austerity socialist government – although that has proved more successful than the ECB thought!

The same article states that [in Portugal] “while it is no longer a criminal offence to possess drugs for personal use, it is still an administrative violation, punishable by penalties such as fines or community service. The specific penalty to be applied is decided by ‘Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction’, which are regional panels made up of legal, health and social work professionals. In reality, the vast majority of those referred to the commissions by the police have their cases ‘suspended’, effectively meaning they receive no penalty.”

Additionally, “there has also been no obvious rise in drug use and drug related deaths have decreased.

The initial aim of the commissions, and of the decriminalisation policy more broadly, was to tackle the severely worsening health of Portugal’s drug using population, in particular its people who inject drugs. In the years leading up to the reform, the number of drug-related deaths had soared, and rates of HIV, AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Hepatitis B and C among people who inject drugs were rapidly increasing. There was a growing consensus among law enforcement and health officials that the criminalisation and marginalisation of people who use drugs was contributing to this problem, and that under a new, more humane, legal framework it could be better managed.

The government was, unlike our own, concerned with the wellbeing of its people. And as if proof were needed of improved social attention:

The introduction of these measures coincided with an expansion of the Portuguese welfare state, which included a guaranteed minimum income.”

(And incidentally I understand that a guaranteed minimum income is what Iain Duncan Smith would be delighted with, provided only that it was – oddly – six weeks late?)

I confess I never knew of the Portuguese guaranteed minimum income, and I can find little (in English at least)* on the subject. Still:

“There is essentially no relationship between the punitiveness of a country’s drug laws and its rates of drug use.”

I rather think we should be looking at our society’s opportunities: where drug dealing is the best opportunity it may indicate that although the political economy is not working as required, actually the ‘state controlled’ market, rather unfortunately for most of us, is.


*Can read Potruguese more or less so if anyone has any documents to suggest do please comment.