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Drugs: The Best Policy Is No Policy

Governments’ so-called “War on Drugs” has taken a major toll on the lives of people around the world. In the US alone, there were over 2 million people in prison for “drug crimes”. And the US government uses drugs as an “excuse” for continued military action and associated bloodshed in Latin America and elsewhere.

With all this violence over consensual activities, it is no wonder that people are waking up and pressuring governments to legalize and decriminalize drug use. Over the past decade, dramatic shifts have occurred in drug policies in various regions. At present, 14 US states and 10 European countries have legalized or decriminalized at least some aspects of drug use or trade. The map below shows marijuana legality worldwide, with regions of legalization/ decriminalization in blue:

I recently re-connected with a friend from Portugal, and among other topics, we discussed the relative value of Californian vs. Portuguese drug policies. At first, each of us argued that the policy where the other lived was better. In California, the sale and use of medical marijuana was “legalized” in 1996, whereas in Portugal the possession and use of all drugs was “decriminalized” in 2001.

Early in our conversation, my friend and I realized there are flaws in both Californian and Portuguese drug policies. I had heard the term “decriminalization” and assumed that the Portuguese government was completely out of the picture when it came to drugs. In fact, drugs are still illegal in Portugal, and the decriminalization was effected through new legislation rather than repeal of previous legislation. My friend explained that being caught with even small quantities of marijuana in Portugal can send a person to court. He said drugs should be totally free like in California. But in California, I explained, drugs are not totally free. Various state and local government offices control who is allowed to buy, sell, grow and prescribe medical marijuana. Clearly, the state wanted to be in on the action. In California, medical marijuana is a $2 billion industry, generating about $100 million in state sales taxes per year.

I’m beginning to think the best policies are in those regions where the drug laws are actively ignored.

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6 Responses

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  1. Mr_Kent says

    Having possesion of a small amout of cannabis in Portugal won’t send you to court, but it can happens if you grow more than three plants of marijuana

  2. xavier says

    i believe your statistic of over 2 million in jail for drug crimes in america is wrong. The number of total incarcerated is around 1.7 million with 419,500 or 23% in jail for drug crimes.

  3. Teresa says

    Xavier, you may be right. Whatever the number, it’s way too many people incarcerated for drug crimes. The link to my source for that statistic isn’t very precise. Ultimately, that source cited the Justice Policy Institute for this statistic. See the first paragraph of this paper from 2008:

  4. Girrrrrrrrrrrl says

    I am from Latvia and i cannot wait till it will be at least decriminalized, too many friends got in prison just because of marijuana. Their middle age is around 20 and they will sit 8 years.. i dont think it is normal. Murderers got the same punishment….

  5. john says

    sending people to prison makes some corporations richer,i think here in the U.K we are starting to look at the way prisons are run in usa and are starting running them the same way as in America..
    our prisons are overflowing with more people inside then there ever was,think they probably build more prisons here now than they build social housing,hence millions without a home to rent and lots of free labour via prisoners for companies to make even more money than ever.

  6. Teresa says

    Girrrrrrl and John, Thanks for your comments. It’s depressing / maddening to know that other countries are like the US in terms of putting peaceful people in prison. John, you’re right about corporations getting richer from this scam. Here’s a link to an article about the booming prison-industrial complex: