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Decriminalize Drugs, and Move Forward not Back


The United States has some of the most punitive laws concerning drugs in the Western world, as a result of our war on drugs. Despite this longtime approach, America and the surrounding countries are still filled with addiction and drug-related violence. Our approach is clearly not working, so why do we not address the initiative to decriminalize drugs, instead of focusing on a method that has clearly failed? What’s more is that other major powers in the Western hemisphere are urging countries to consider this same idea, and in the case of Portugal, show staggering success with their experiment of decriminalizing drugs.

From Canada to Mexico and Brazil, leaders in foreign countries have addressed the idea that the so-called war on drugs has failed – failed to solve the addiction problem and failed to stem the flow of illegal drugs. In May, the Organization of American States (OAS) suggested that countries try decriminalizing drugs in order to address the current issues of violence and addiction that plague much of South America. Countries such as Colombia and Guatemala have reported that they have been “paying intolerable costs in violence and corruption” in relation to the drug trade, and that “U.S.-driven drug prohibition policies…failed to stem the illegal drug business” (Kraul). However, it’s not only the countries where drug production is highest that have noticed the failure of the current drug policies. Also in May, a group of Canadian drug policy experts urged their administration to reform their drug policies by decriminalizing drugs, because even their prime minister – who supports the militaristic approach to the drug problem – has admitted that the current position is “not working” (Webster).

Perhaps most importantly in our consideration of this approach, we need to remember that we would not be the first country or countries to do this. In 2001, Portugal took the route of decriminalizing drugs to address its large drug problem – it had the highest rate of HIV among injecting drug users in the European Union; with 2,000 new cases annually in a country of 10 million people (O’Neill). Since then, their policy has seemed to have incredible success – according to a 2009 report, drug use of all kinds have declined in Portugal; with lifetime use amongst 7th to 9th graders dropping from 14.01% to 10.6% and the lowest rate of marijuana usage in people over fifteen; about 10%  compared to America’s 40% (O’Neill).

Our outdated system of addressing the problems with drugs is not working. The best of efforts are hindered by “fear…and poorly informed policies based on outdated ideas and beliefs about drugs and the people who use them” (Webster). We need to take a lesson from Portugal, who took a great risk with decriminalizing drugs and continues to experience great success. We can also take notes from the Canadian suggestions to their own government, which include harm-reduction proposals, such as supplying clean needles to IV users, clean pipes for smokers, and a sterile injection site with pure and measured doses, followed by a consultation about attending treatment (Webster). If we were to decriminalize drugs, all of the resources that we put currently allocate to prosecuting and imprisoning addicts can be used to provide treatment programs. Our country can take all of these steps, or it can take some. The only thing that we can’t afford to do as a society is keep doing what we’re doing, when all evidence points to the war on drugs being a failure.


Works Cited

Kraul, Chris. “OAS study says countries should consider decriminalizing drug use.” 17 May 2013. Los Angeles Times . Web. 10 July 2013.

O’Neill, Tony. “Ten Years Ago Portugal Decriminalized All Drugs. What Happened Next?” 13 July 2011. The Fix. Web. 10 July 2013.

Webster, Stephen C. “Canadian drug policy experts recommend decriminalizing all drugs.” 23 May 2013. Raw Story. Web. 10 July 2013.

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Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs · Tags: decriminalizing drugs, Portugal, war on drugs is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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