On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalised all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Drug possession for personal use and drug usage are still legally prohibited, but violations are administrative violations and removed from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense. Decriminalisation has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU. Drug-related pathologies—such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage—have decreased dramatically.

Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programmes to its citizens—enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalisation. The effects of decriminalisation in Portugal are examined both in absolute terms and in comparisons with other states that continue to criminalise drugs, particularly within the EU. The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.

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