Don't Hold Your Breath
The USA says cannabis is a dangerous drug and it’s wide spread use certainly keeps the private prisons that are spreading around the world, nicely stocked with a steady supply of puffers and small time dealers who make up the bulk of prison inmates in American prisons, along with illegal aliens awaiting deportation. With a private prison system looking to increase productivity the millions of drug offenders, in particular the marijuana smokers, who are in general, easy to control, given they are soft criminals, as opposed to the hardened variety, are a godsend to the prison operators, quite literally. It’s easy money, and if you can catch them 3 times, you can lock them up forever at the expense of the American tax payers who will have to support them for many years to come, to the tune of several billions of dollars.
I don’t think it’s hard to figure out why America has the largest prison population per capita of any country on the planet and its easy to see why given the prison service is a business first and a public service second. Productivity is the name of the game and like any business, it has to make a good return to its stock holders so productivity, or more prisoners, is the name of the game.
Clearly it is not solvable using the heavy-handed methods favoured by the American government and as such all governments of the world, with one significant exception, that exception being the tiny country of Portugal. They, like so many other countries, suffered a huge drug abuse problem that threatened the very fabric of Portuguese society. Clearly, locking offenders up for long periods of time was not helping the problem and the prison population, as in many other countries, was bulging with drug use offenders whose incarceration was paid for by the taxes of hard working Portuguese. A solution had to be found.
By 2006, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400. To date those numbers of hard drug users are steadily decreasing to even lower figures and Portugal is enjoying the benefits of safer streets and hardly any drug-related crimes compared to pre-2001.
When it was first suggested, as was expected, the idea had its critics who took the view that such a relaxed attitude to drug use would result in Portugal, in particular Lisbon becoming a drug Mecca for European junkies. However, as things turned out, that particular fear was unfounded and drug decriminalization did reach its primary goal and proved eminently successful in reducing the health consequences of drug use and further more, did not lead to Lisbon becoming a drug tourist destination, as the critics predicted.
Clearly, “prevention is better than cure”, but let’s not rule out curing our problematic drug abusers. As the Portuguese experiment has admirably shown it has proven to be eminently effective and an example to the rest of the world, particularly the USA who are still ignoring the success of the Portuguese example. I suppose business is business and a body in jail is a buck in the bank to them so we won’t hold our breath.
When asked by a journalist from Scientific American what they thought of the report on Portugal the spokesperson for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy declined to comment, citing the pending Senate confirmation of the office's new director, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs also declined to comment on the report. Like I said, ‘Don’t hold your breath’