We should decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use for the following simple reasons: (1) If users are addicted then they are ill, and criminal sanctions are an inappropriate way to deal with an illness; (2) If they are not addicted then criminalisation will almost always lead to greater harms to the user than the effects of the drug. For example, it can severely limit career options in public service and prevent travel to some countries particularly the USA.
In July 2001, the Portuguese government introduced Law 30, setting in train a radical new approach to illicit drug use. In practice, it decriminalised the possession of certain quantities of drugs for personal use, instead referring users to one of the country’s 20 ‘dissuasion commissions’. Allied with decree 183 – which significantly expanded the network of harm reduction programmes – this meant that heroin users could seek help rather than face the wrath of the police.