Effects of Drug Policies/Laws in the United States Compared to Portugal

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Effects of drug policies/laws in the United States compared to Portugal Diogo Monteiro
10-19-2012
Drug Use and Abuse

I started this paper with the intention of writing about the differences and its effects of the drug policies in the US compared to Europe. But since drug policies in Europe diverge much between all the different countries it encloses, I optioned by comparing the drug laws in the US with the ones of my own country, Portugal. This decision was most correct since both have such different attitudes towards their population drug problem. In one hand we have the United States of America with a very high penalty for drug possession and traffic and on the other we have Portugal which decriminalized the possession of all drugs, keeping only an administrative violation. Although many factors are to be considered, like the size of both populations, Portugal’s is of 10 million people, and many cultural background differences, one can compare the results and identify a trend on the results. It is important to understand that penalties in Portugal are way smaller that in the US. The maximum prison penalty is of 25 years with the inexistence of death penalty and that Portugal did what it did not because they gave up on the war on drugs, but because they felt there was a need to find a different approach, since criminal penalties were not working. In the United States drug policies are very strict. In an article written by Jonathan Caulkins and Pete Reuters they evaluated the results of these laws and offered some alternatives that would require little change to the system. They start by informing the reader about the different drug epidemics and their time frame. They explained that the first one was heroine, later cocaine, following it came crack and lastly were the methamphetamines. These were the big drugs that changed the attitude of America’s politicians towards drugs. Drug related expenses in the US account for 40 billion dollars that the government spends every year. Of course were talking at all levels, including prison, prevention, treatment and policing. Drug prevention programs are not extremely effective but are cheap and yes it is a good approach to fight against teen drug use. Mass-media campaigns seem to produce no result, since you’ll a teenager will watch them, change the channel and find some show that supports the use of drugs. Doing treatment on drug abusers seems to produce a big impact on the population being treated. Although it is fairly expensive for the government they manage to control maybe a quarter of the addicted population and cure a fraction of those. Even if they end up relapsing there is still the success of dropping the criminal rates of those individuals, saving money to the state in the end. Most of the US drug efforts go towards drug laws and the enforcement of them. It is at this point that we start to question the effectiveness of the US in controlling its addicted population. One billion is spent every year at the source of production like the Andes and Colombia, but the results are very weak since there is much will to make money producing coca leaves and marijuana in those areas. 2.5 billion are spent in interdiction and although it has some success, there are just too many holes to close. Most of the money spent by the US on drug related problems is on enforcement. Since the start of harsh punitive action towards drug abusers and distributers in the eighties there has been an increase of 400 thousand people to the US prisons population. There are currently half a million people living in American prison cells. That doesn’t seem very right in a country that defends freedom on top of everything. There are as many inmates in America as in the whole European continent which as a way bigger population that the US, exceeding by at least 300 million. Most of these people were arrested for drug distribution and some for possession accumulated with other charges. The question is...
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