The evidence from Portugal since 2001 is that its decriminalization of drug use and possession has produced many significant benefits and almost no harmful side-effects. Ten facts about Portugal’s experience:
1. There is little evidence of drug tourism: 95% of those cited for drug misdemeanours since 2001 have been Portuguese.
2. The level of drug trafficking, measured by numbers convicted, has declined.
3. The incidence of other drug-related sexually transmitted diseases has decreased dramatically.
4. Deaths from drug overdoses have also decreased dramatically.
5. The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programs has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use).
6. Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%.
7. Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis.
8. Heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups.
9. The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17%.
10. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before.
Bottom Line: In contrast to the dire consequences that critics predicted, a Cato Institute study concluded that “none of the nightmare scenarios initially painted, from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for drug tourists has occurred.”