Everyone knows the effect of making it easier to get hold of intoxicating substances - the country goes to hell in a handcart with the productive members of society sinking into a drug-fuelled haze, drug tourists descend en masse from every corner of the globe, bringing crime and corruption and disease, and civil society collapses into a general malaise from which it can never be extracted.
It's odd then that we haven't heard more about the Portuguese experiment: in 2001, Portugal decriminalised possession of drugs. All drugs: heroin, cocaine, cannabis, you name it. And the results of their experiment have been a trifle unexpected. The Cato Institute has the full story, but here are a few choice extracts:
The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success.
Fears of "drug tourism” have turned out to be completely unfounded.
Prevalence rates for the 15–19 age group have actually decreased in absolute terms since decriminalization.
In almost every category of drug, and for drug usage overall, the lifetime prevalence rates in the predecriminalization era of the 1990s were higher than the postdecriminalization rates.
The number of newly reported cases of HIV and AIDS among drug addicts has declined substantially every year since 2001.
The total number of drug-related deaths has actually decreased from the redecriminalization
year of 1999 (when it totaled close to 400) to 2006 (when the total was 290).
Anyone who proclaims that they are in favour of legalisation of drugs is usually met with an incredulous reply of "What? All drugs?". It now seems that an unequivocal answer can now be given to this kind of disbelief.
"Yes. All drugs."