Interview with an architect of Portugal’s successful drug decriminalization

One of the architects of Portugal’s successful drug decriminalization policy says, “to make demands of addicts who are enslaved by their addiction is senseless.” Well, it makes sense to those who profit by it, such as private prison companies. And Georgia is now proposing to make field slaves out of them, for failing a drug test.

Inês Subtil wrote for communidad segura 11 May 2009, Portugal: Success in harm reduction:

In 1999, Portugal broke new ground by enacting legislation that decriminalized all drug use. Ten years later, the results are there for all to see, results of a change that João Goulão, president of the do Instituto da Droga e Toxicodependência (The Drugs and Chemical Addiction Institute) IDT, believes show the law has been instrumental in solving the problem of drug abuse, and crucial for bringing legislation into harmony with practices and people.

A family doctor, Goulão was condecorated by the president of the Portuguese Republic, but he says he is always ready for to roll up his sleeves and get out in the field. At 55, he is a candidate for the Presidency of the European Drugs Observatory, but that has not clowded his sobriety about the work at hand.

In an exclusive interview to Comunidad Segura, Goulão discusses the workings and the structure of the institution that he presides over, that has set a world-wide example of success. For him, drug use is closely associated to self-esteem. “If we could restore drug addicts their human dignity, we would be able to demand something in return. But to make demands of addicts who are enslaved by their addiction is senseless,” he said.

Now that makes a lot of sense. And Portugal demonstrates that it works.

He has more sensible things to say in the interview, including this:

Why decriminalize all drugs, instead of a few?

The distinction between light and heavy drugs makes less and less sense, and already from the 90’s it made little sense scientifically. There are drugs with different levels of danger, but these levels are changing. The plants have undergone genetic alterations, they have been manipulated, and in some cases the content of the active substance has increased by 15 to 10 times, as have the psico-gênic effects that these substances cause.

That means that the distinction makes little sense. I have seen people who are heavily addicted to so-called light drugs, and people using so-called heavy drugs in reasonably light ways. The issue has more to do with the relationship each person establishes with the substance than with what the substance itself is. That is what led us to decriminalize all substances.

This is why while Washington state ending marijuana prohibition would be a good start, it is only a start on solving the problem of far too many people in the prison system, 1 in 13 of the adult population in Georgia.

We can’t afford a private prison in Lowndes County, Georgia. Spend those tax dollars on rehabilitation and education.


PS: Human security, there’s a concept!