Project Title: Portuguese Experiment with Drug Decriminalization: Lessons on How to Win the War on Drugs
Student: Luke Waters ’16
Mentor: Dr. Paul Dean
In the 1970s, both the United States and Portugal experienced a massive increase in the amount of drug users and abusers in their countries. Both responded to this drug crisis by embracing the prohibition and criminalization of drugs as the most effective way to deter drug use. By the early-1990s, both countries were experiencing the negative effects of their War on Drugs. In Portugal, it was estimated that 1 in 100 people were addicted to heroin; in the U.S., the prison rate had increased by over 300% percent by 1995. In 2001, after decades of failed drug policies, Portugal decided to make a radical change in their drug policy system by decriminalizing all drugs, investing heavily in drug treatment, and instituting administrative penalties to encourage deterrence. In the same decade, the U.S. continued to institute the same policies they had for decades, increasing the criminal sanctions that applied to drug use and possession. Today, mass incarceration, led predominately by the modern War on Drugs, is one of the biggest civil rights issues in America. The U.S. currently holds 25% of the world's prison population, despite only representing 5% of the world's population. On the other hand, Portugal's drug problem has been radically ameliorated. The number of new cases of heroin addicted persons decreased to under one-hundred people in 2015, the lowest number in four decades. The lessons from Portugal's experiment with drug decriminalization can provide insight to the United States on how to effectively reduce drug use and abuse and win the War on Drugs.