Here's a good Boston Globe report on the first decade of Portugal's bold experiment with drug decriminalization and increased treatment. Ten years ago, Portugal — whose drug problem had been spiraling out of control — decided to treat drug addiction as a public health matter, not as a criminal matter. They decriminalized possession of drugs, and increased treatment available to addicts, and experienced an immediate, dramatic and sustained drop in negative effects from drug use — though the use of some drugs went up.
In this sense, one drug policy expert noted, the Portuguese experiment has become a sort of Rorschach test — in the dark blobs on the page, people can see whatever they want to see. But Tom McLellan, the former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama, said he's happy for the conversation. While not in favor of decriminalization, McLellan believes that the American debate over drug reform has become too polarized, with one side calling for incarceration and the other for legalization. "And I just don't buy it," McLellan said. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, he believes, and perhaps that's where we can learn something from Portugal, a country that at least tried something new.
"I like that approach to drug policy," McLellan said. "Policy is really a product. And like a product, policy can be made better with experimentation and honest evaluation, rather than stupid polemic polarization of ideology."
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