Thursday, December 07, 2017

Back to Portugal

I see that The Guardian is running another article in praise of Portugal's drug policy.   Surely Jason wouldn't be goading me by tweeting it?

As far as it goes, the article isn't too bad - it contains some nuance in its noting that the law reform (decriminalisation of personal use) was not the only thing that helped reduce the impact of illicit drugs in the country.

The thing is, the country switched suddenly from a very conservative view of prohibition and lack of support services to one in which the view of drug use as a public health problem gained primacy.  But even then it's not exactly a libertarian approach, with users being able to referred to panels that may push them towards health services

But as for lessons for Australia - our governments have long been willing to address the public health aspects, including (as I have mentioned before) a methadone program available through pharmacies even in conservative stick Bjelke Peterson's Queensland in the early 1980's, if not before.   Then, of course, there is needle exchange, and (to a very limited extent) safe injecting rooms.  I would be surprised if many European countries had not followed the same path of making public health support available for those who want it, while maintaining prohibition on possession (but not making enforcement of that a priority.)

The answer to the question the article proposes "why hasn't the rest of the world followed Portugal" is therefore that, in many respects, they (more or less) were already there.

Given the involvement of drugs in cases of poverty in Australia (see Struggle Street), I remain as ever a cynic about the benefit of a full decriminalisation policy.

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