|Lisbon Takes Drug Use Off The Charge Sheet|
Posted by FoM on July 20, 2001 at 10:28:46 PT|
By Giles Tremlett in Lisbon
Source: Guardian Unlimited
Portugal has forced back the frontiers of drug liberalisation in Europe with a law which, at a stroke, decriminalises the use of all previously banned narcotics, from cannabis to crack cocaine.
The new law, which came into effect on 1 July, takes a socially conservative country with traditional Catholic values far ahead of much of northern Europe, including Britain, in treating drug abuse as a social and health problem rather than a criminal one.
Vitalino Canas, the drug tsar appointed by the Socialist prime minister, Antonio Guterres, to steer the law into place, said yesterday that it made more sense to change the law than ignore it, as police forces do in Holland, parts of Swizerland, and now experimentally in the Brixton area of London.
"Why not be clear about this, and change the law to recognise that consuming drugs can be an illness or the route to illness?" he said. "America has spent billions on enforcement but it has got nowhere. We view drug users as people who need help and care."
He admitted that Mr Guterres was taking a risk, but said Portugal had no real choice. The police had stopped arresting suspects and the courts were throwing out cases against users rather than apply legislation which sent them to prison for up to three years.
Margarida Costa, 35, a skeletal addict who has found a home at a drug treatment hostel, said prison had never helped her. "In fact, I started taking drugs in jail," she said. "You could get everything you wanted in there, every day."
Still emaciated from 10 years of heroin abuse and living rough, she is on methadone and preparing to return to living with her mother.
Out of the ghetto
She is lucky. She has escaped from Casal Ventoso, Europe's worst drugs ghetto, where 800 or so addicts lived rough in tents or shacks of wood and corrugated iron. Up to 5,000 more poured in daily to buy their heroin fix. The government is now bulldozing the ghetto but hundreds of addicts still shoot up there at all hours.
Up to 100 at a time gather nearby in Maria Pia Street, blocking traffic as they wait for dealers, and are joined by smart couples in four-wheel-drive vehicles seeking their daily dose.
"I know of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even a police officer, who are all secretly hooked on heroin," said Luis Patricio, the psychologist who led the campaign to treat Casal Ventoso as a public health problem.
Most countries had got the relationship between drugs, crime and jail the wrong way around, he said.
"Prison is a university of crime. People learn violence there."
The rightwing opposition is predicting a catastrophic boom in drug consumption and the sudden arrival of thousands of hardened addicts and thrill-seekers from around Europe.
"We promise sun, beaches and any drug you like," Paulo Portas, leader of the Popular party, said.
But Mr Canas insisted that he was not turning Portugal into Europe's drug paradise. "We are still fighting a war against drugs, but wars have their victims and the drug users are victims of the traffickers," he said.
The police, armed with new laws prescribing hefty prisons sentences and the confiscation of all money and property, have been been ordered to turn their undivided attention to the drug mafias.
Decriminalising drugs is not the same as legalising them, Mr Canas pointed out. In fact drug use can still be punished under the new law, but the responsibility has been shifted to independent drug dissuasion commissions, which can impose £900 fines, order community service or detoxification programmes, and take away the jobs of those no longer fit to hold them.
"The courts just made things worse. Here we will help them, but also watch over them," said Americo Gegaloto, the lawyer who heads the commission in Setubal, south of Lisbon.
Fines and treatment
He and the two social workers who sit with him now decide what happens to drug users in a district covering the industrialised south bank of the Tagus.
The police still detain users and confiscate their drugs but, instead of locking them up or taking them to court they send their names and addresses to the commission.
In the Setubal commission's offices in the basement of a city centre block of flats, in a small room decorated with floral prints, they are questioned across what could be a dining room table and a decision on their future is taken.
It is the recreational drug users who are most likely to be fined. Addicts will be sent to detoxification or other health programmes, if the £175m budget for implementing the law allows.
Mr Gegaloto expects heroin users to take up much of his time. But yesterday his only drug user was a boyish 19-year-old national serviceman called Paulo in sailor's uniform, sent by the military police, whose dogs sniffed out a lump of hash.
Paulo was all smiles and polite handshakes, thankful that he would have no criminal record but bewildered by the attention of so many people.
He was let off without a fine, but had to promise to give up joints and visit weekly. His name will go on a confidential drug users register for five years.
At Casal Ventoso, Police Sergeant Henrique Pires was not so sure about the new law. The presence of his squad of 10 men had simply pushed addicts 20 metres down the street.
Occasionally his unit's van is stoned or a bottle flies out from the rubble. "It was better before," he grumbled.
Paulo Lima, a former Casal Ventoso resident now at a detoxification clinic, disagreed. "There is no point arresting us. But they should still take the drugs off people."
Note: Addicts treated as health and social problem.
Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)
Portugal Legalises Drug Use
CannabisNews Articles - Legalization
|Comment #8 posted by Lehder on July 22, 2001 at 08:47:39 PT|
|This is fascinating, and I mean to take time and find out what I can of Portugal. Did you know, Diogo, that two among the Azores were once called the "Flower Islands"?|
Background: Following its heyday as a world power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of its Brazilian colony in 1822. A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy; for most of the next six decades repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms. The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal entered the EC in 1985.
Illicit drugs: important gateway country for Latin American cocaine entering the European market;transshipment point for hashish from North Africa to Europe; consumer of Southwest Asian heroin
In fact, Portugal's decline from greatness can be marked from its expulsion of the Jews in 1496, a common and always disastrous blunder throughout history. At the loss of its most educated and productive people there followed wars, invasions by both the Spanish and the French, bankruptcy, an Inquisition that extended even to the provinces claimed by de Gama and Portugal's other great explorers, and more than three centuries of social and economic decline, culminating in the brutal tyrannies, complete with a Fascist Gestapo, of Antonio Salazar (1932-68) and his successor Marcello Caetano (until 1974).
Investing in Portugal:
Immigrating to Portugal; racism in Portugal:
With all of Europe nearly free of drug wars, the final small argument against legalization - that Holland has attracted a lot of drugged-out, bothersome loiterers - is put to rest. Thinking about the future of the U.S., in the light of tyrannies of the past, remains most troublesome. It can happen here.
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|Comment #7 posted by Diogo de Silves on July 21, 2001 at 23:19:56 PT|
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|Comment #6 posted by doNOTpoisonMEplease on July 21, 2001 at 10:00:38 PT|
| I have only seen this story in|
British and Australian newspaper
It is almost like the US newspapers
have the same fears as most politicians.
If they speak the truth on this issue
they are afraid of the reaction.
Given all the people being arrested in the WOD,
you would think the Washington Post
would think this was a newsworthy story
would you not? ( From what I hear
about the Post some there do think its
newsworthy but they get overruled).
Its fear imposed censorship. You can
say anything you want that you do not
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|Comment #5 posted by bruce42 on July 21, 2001 at 02:18:03 PT|
|It is well and good that usage is legal- this way addicts can seek treatment without fear and people have free reign over their intake of chemicals. It always seems silly to me that guv'ment [governments in general] thinks it has to save people from themselves like overprotective, abusive parents.|
However, I do share the concerns of Sudaca and Dave in Forida. I agree that a lack of legal and controlled supply is potentially dangerous. If the guv'ment is truly concerned with protecting the public from itself they should provide opportunities for treatment, a safe source of narcotics, and plenty of drug education for youth. Drugs are always going to be around. It is really, really impossible to undiscover something or make the supply go away when the market is so good. The black market must be dealt with economically, just like any market. Offer legal drugs at the low, low price of next to nothing and suddenly illegal, unreliable, black market dope starts vanishing from street corners and alleys. And I expect drug-related violent crimes would plummet.
For too long, guv'ment has been cultivating a healthy fear of drugs and drug users in the minds of youth and the public. How can guv'ment expect the respect of the people when the guv'ment doesn't respect them to make informed choices and denies them the right to control their body? I thought the goal was to eradicate slavery in the world, not rework it under a haze of archaic drug laws and misinformation.
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|Comment #4 posted by sm247 on July 20, 2001 at 15:58:26 PT|
|This is a leap into the right directino. I can see the "black market" cringing with fear.... is their unemployment dues up to date???|
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|Comment #3 posted by mayan on July 20, 2001 at 15:29:35 PT|
|"America has spent billions on enforcement but it has got nowhere."|
The rest of the free world realizes this, but our leaders are obviously too dumb & too stubborn to admit that they were wrong all these decades.
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|Comment #2 posted by Dave in Florida on July 20, 2001 at 14:07:20 PT|
|The police still detain users and confiscate their drugs but, instead of locking them up or taking them to court|
they send their names and addresses to the commission.
It won't reduce the crime done by users who still have to deal with black market dealers and pay bleack market prices. When the police confiscate the drugs the user just has to go out and but some more drugs. It is counter productive. They should give the user a token or chit for free help to stop their addiction.
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|Comment #1 posted by Sudaca on July 20, 2001 at 11:58:54 PT|
|"Prison is a university of crime. People learn violence there." |
this is an observation that seems to be lost on the American Gov't. It would seem that they think prison is a place where people are "reformed" and that they come out better people for the experience.
Unfortunately for Portugal, Decrim will only make some of the fears very possible. The drug trade will still be black market, and all the conservatives will need as an excuse will be to point out the increase in trafficking activity to paint this decision as a disaster.
Hopefully the decrease in harm for users will be evident.
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