I stumbled upon an article a few classmates of mine posted in our Facebook group. The article in question is about Portugal decriminalizing drugs in 2001 in order to stop the extreme rise in heroin use.
The government set a new legislation which bans the decriminalization of personal use of illegal substances. In whole, it means that buying, having and consuming a drug is not a crime. However, this does not include selling nor owning a vast amount, which would indicate selling the drugs to others.
Although at the beginning of the 1990’s Portugal used a seemingly small amount of drugs compared to other European countries, the usage of heroin was very high. In addition, the concern grew with the knowledge that over half of the people with HIV, had gotten the disease through shared needles of heroin.
What interested me the most about this new legislation is the structure of it. It is still unlawful to consume drugs, but if one gets caught by the police, they do not get the three year prison sentence that the country had prior to the change in law. Instead, the police investigate the situation by analyzing the amount of drugs involved. If there is a lot more than one would use for personal consumption, it is suspected to be for the purpose of selling and not consuming. The steps into the actual solution are made by doctors and social workers.
Overall, the point is to encourage rehabilitation. The law states that everyone has the right to receive help. I am proud of the fact that a somewhat “risk” has been taken when stabilizing this law. There is an uncertainty about the results. I would have thought that the consumption of illegal substances would have risen as residents know they will not get punished by it. By 2017, there were less than 20 contamination’s linked to substance abusers, and the rise in heroin dropped dramatically. On the other hand, it all makes sense. Once there is something one doesn’t have to hide from, the results are astonishing. One will most likely seek for help, knowing that the consequences are nothing but intense help and rehab, and not imprisonment. You can look at like this: if a child knows that they will not get punished for being mean to someone but in turn receive help and guidance towards a more constructive way of communication, they will most likely follow that path. Of course, this matter could be easily arguable, but I believe that help always overcomes punishment.
Furthermore, according to Talentia, there is a place in Santa Maria, Portugal, called IN-Mouraria where peer support is offered. The workers are previous substance abusers themselves making it an ever lower threshold for the clients. IN-Mouraria also offers free HIV and hepatitis tests. In addition to this, they help people with additional services if the tests appear positive. The majority of the clients are homeless and so extra resources such as telephones, donated clothes and hygiene products are offered.
There are places like IN-Mouraria in Finland too, with low threshold services for less advantaged people. What I like is that the environment is one where issues such as substance abuse, can be spoken about shamelessly.
It is arguable to say that a law like this set by Portugal, would work in every country with substance abuse problems. Every society has its own dynamics. If excellent resources are offered, banning the punishment for illegal substances is great. However, the lack of extensive services provided, and help readily given immediately without months of waiting for an appointment, can cause a backfire and create even more problems for the entire society.
Pöysä, A. 2019. Talentia.
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