On Friday, I had the opportunity to hear Glenn Greenwald speak at the Cato Institute regarding his Cato-sponsored report, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies. You can read the report here and Cato also has a downloadable MP3 of the event.
The back-story here is that Portugal implemented an across-the-board drug decriminalization policy back in 2001. There's been very little discussion and research regarding its impact, hence Cato recruited Greenwald (a genius and extremely popular political blogger) to study Portuguese drug policy. His findings thoroughly illustrate the efficiency of decriminalization towards addressing key drug policy goals, while refuting the myth that removing harsh penalties will lead to increased consumption.
The whole thing utterly shatters most, if not all, arguments that continue to be advanced in support of tough drug laws here in the U.S. and around the world. I found a couple points particularly interesting:
1. When Portugal began looking at alternative policies to address a growing drug problem, they did not consider legalization because it was determined that such a policy would violate international treaties. It's a small country that can't afford to be belligerant. This just goes to show, once again, the extent to which prohibition is not a consensus policy at the international level, but rather an idealogical approach that less powerful nations have been forced to accept.
2. The decision to implement a decriminalization policy emerged through discussion of empirical data, rather than emotional arguments about morals, civil liberties and so forth. I don't know how representative this is of what approach would be most effective in establishing more reasonable policies here in the U.S., but it's certainly worth taking a look at the context in which decriminalization triumphed over other policy options.