Lessons from Portugal: Time to end the war on drugs.

Ten years ago, Portugal adopted a different, and initially controversial, approach to drug use by not going through the popular idea of “war on drugs”; the government instead decriminalized drug possession and use. The idea is that drug users should not be treated as criminals to be punished; rather, they were considered patients who needed to be treated.

Critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country has some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. The recently realised results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April 2011, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.

Forty years later, the “war on drugs” has been found ineffective and pointless. The aggressive stance against the drug users makes for someone impressive news footages but it hardly gives any measurable benefit to society. Even the current US government has decided to change tack and focus on treatment and prevention in its drug policy.

For many years nows, Philippine society has embraced the same “war on drugs” attitude and demonized drug use and users as some of the roots of social decay. I wonder how long will it take for our government to get its head out of its ass and start looking at empirical data rather than listening to hysterical rhetoric. Playing it tough has not really done us anything good, has it?

Time to end the war on drugs