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The effects of the drug trade are easy to see. Everyone has a mate who smokes too much weed, we all see the results of spice on the street and nobody needs reminding about the effects of addiction on the petty crime rate.
On a larger scale, we are well aware of the skyrocketing murder rates in Central America caused by cartels fighting over trafficking routes, and of the role of heroin in funding Isis, as well as the way in which drug laws - and subsequent incarceration rates - disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the poor.
Surely there must be another way? Well, if Portugal is anything to go by, there is. They decriminalised all drugs in 2001 - note decriminalised, not legalised - and the country has seen huge drops in overdoses, drug-related diseases and crime.
The change in law came because of a deep and entrenched drug problem (during the country's 1990s heroin epidemic, an astonishing one percent of the population were addicted) and a willingness to face the facts that control and prohibition had not worked.
Packets of cocaine. Credit: PA
Portugal is reported to have the second lowest rate of drug deaths in Europe - three per one million people, as opposed to 44 per million in the UK - because of the way that addicts are able to regulate their supply and have it checked by the authorities. The game of cat and mouse between users, dealers and the police simply doesn't exist.
The architect of the scheme, Dr João Goulão, is quick to point out that decriminalisation is not a magic bullet, saying: "It's very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalisation by itself and the positive tendencies we have seen." The facts speak for themselves, however.
"The reality is that Portugal's drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas," read the Transform Drug Policy Institute's analysis of the scheme.
Dr João Goulão. Credit: EMCDDA (Creative Commons)
"Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise."
Drugs are one of the major issues of the modern age. The drug trade is worth billions, from the growers to the traffickers to the guy on the street selling them to users.
It can seem bewildering that, at a time when many are considering the legalisation of some substances, governments are also considering the prohibition of others at a rate that are created for every new one that is banned.
The majority of drug deaths occur as a result of irregular supply - that is, that users do not know how strong their gear is and therefore overdose - and the overwhelming amount of drug crime is due to either the illegality of the product (and subsequent lucrative market for those selling it) and the ever-fluctuating price and quality. With all that in mind, decriminalisation does seem to have its benefits.
Perhaps next time the government sit down and discuss drug policy, Portugal might be a decent case study to look at.
Words: Mike Meehall Wood
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