In 2001, a small western European nation decided to do what no other country had done before it; decriminalize all drugs. The country’s name was Portugal, and it boldly went where others dared not dream of in order to solve their growing drug epidemic. Portugal’s government leaders thought outside the box in order to save the lives of their compatriots by fundamentally changing the way they view drugs. In the end, deciding that reducing the harm posed by illegal drugs was more important than punishing users of these substances.

Now, how exactly did Portugal go about this? First of all, they decriminalized all drugs from Marijuana to Heroin. By allowing all citizens to possess personal amounts of these substances, they then pumped revenue into rehabilitation programs rather than prison systems. Along with this, Portugal cracked down on the dealers, rather than the users of drugs. The result was a success. Post-drug decriminalization, illegal drug use among teens dropped from 14.1% to 10.6%, the number of HIV infections (from sharing dirty needles) fell by 17%, the number of those seeking treatment for their addiction increased by more than 200%, and deaths caused by Heroin and similar drug overdose were halved.

Other western countries should follow in the footsteps of Portugal by legalizing drugs, not only to save money, but to save lives.

The war on drugs in America has failed. No matter what way you spin it, it has been a complete and utter disaster. Americans make up roughly 4.4% of the world’s population, but account for 25% of the world’s prison population. A total of 2.2 million American adults are currently imprisoned, and half are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes. It costs on average $28,284 to house a criminal annually in an American prison, which means that the American government spends roughly $31,112,400,000 each year to house these individuals, many of whom desperately need treatment, not punishment.

Outside of the cost of housing these inmates, the American government spends another $15 billion combating the importation of illegal substances, primarily across their porous border with Mexico. You would think that with so much money being spent to prohibit these substances, there would be some kind of reduction in drug use. This, sadly, is not the case. Drug use within America is at a standstill, and in certain cases such as marijuana, actually increasing.

Ironically enough, tobacco products – while still considered legal – are dramatically decreasing in usage by as much as 7.35% from 2002 to 2013. Due to the strain that tobacco products place on the healthcare system, the government has implemented a series of aggressive anti-smoking advertisements over the past number of years in order to change the public’s opinion on the drug. This is similar to Portugal’s stance regarding illegal substances, which focuses on informing the public of the dangers of using said substances, and offering them treatment if they are addicted. Relatively safe drugs like Marijuana should be legalized, controlled, and sold to the public at a high percent tax. The alternative to this, of course, being the current system that places profits in the pockets of drug cartels.

Some American states have followed Portugal by partial example, and legalized some drugs (mostly Marijuana). Colorado, a state with a population of only 5.3 million, has raked in over $135 million in taxes from Marijuana, and made over $1 billion in total revenue in just a single year. This has helped fund government-run rehabilitation programs for users addicted to various substances. If the entire United States of America followed suit, that figure would be exponentially larger, assuming this rate were to continue across the board. If this figure stayed the same, the United States would make approximately $8,122,924,528 in profits from the legalization of Marijuana alone, not including various other drugs that could, and should, be legalized as well.

The economic benefit of legalizing drugs would be felt by every American citizen, especially by those who desperately need care. Examples of other drugs that could be legalized alongside Marijuana include include psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms (which are currently being investigated for medicinal uses), and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Legalizing psilocybin mushrooms and LSD would benefit not just the users, but the average American citizen too. It would allow users to purchase safer product as the government is able to tax the product as opposed to creating a black market, and would take the financial burden off of the average American paying taxes for these individuals to be imprisoned.

After Portugal decriminalized all drugs; illegal drug use among teens dropped by almost 4% from 14.1% to 10.6%, the number of HIV infections (from sharing dirty needles) fell by 17%, the number of those seeking treatment for their addiction increased by more than 200%, and deaths caused by heroin and similar drug overdose were halved.

We, as citizens, must also question whether or not the government should have the right to infringe on our personal rights. Should the government be authorized to tell us what we can or cannot put in our bodies? Should the government have the authority to imprison us for our personal choices? That is not Liberty, and far from a ‘free country’, by definition.

As outlined previously, this prohibition by the government has done nothing in the sense of decreasing drug use, and has actually ended up making these substances more dangerous for its citizens. These drugs are created in underground labs by pseudo-scientists, often times cutting the pure drug with other potentially dangerous substances to emulate the same high while saving themselves a quick buck. This puts the user at a huge risk since, unless they purchase a testing kit, they really have no clue what they are ingesting.

If drugs were controlled and distributed by the government, safety would be paramount and users would know exactly what they were taking, and could measure their dose accordingly. One of the government’s primary jobs should be to provide safety for its citizens and if there are laws in place that are putting their people in danger, they should be amended immediately.

Drug reform in the west is long overdue. Portugal has taken that important first step and has shown other countries that for the past decade, their system works. Nations with similar drug and incarceration problems such as the United States now have an alternative to their traditionalistic prohibitive approach which has failed for over fifty years. I issue a call to action to my fellow Westerners to push for drug reform in your respective countries, not only for the economic benefits that you would surely feel, but to help your sick and dying compatriots. The primary job for the government is to protect its citizens, not punish them, let’s all push for more compassionate leadership.

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