Tag Archives: drugs

All Drug Use Has Been Decriminalized in Portugal Since 2001, And It’s Going Well

Before we get into details, a couple of clarifications:

  1. Yes, this includes the hard stuff, like cocaine and heroin
  2. It’s decriminalization, not legalization: drug use is still illegal, but it’s treated as a civil matter rather than a criminal one. More like traffic tickets and contracts rather than burglaries and murder.
  3. Making, trafficking and selling drugs are still criminal acts; the only thing that’s been decriminalized is possession for personal use, which is defined as a 10 day supply.

Now that we know the parameters of the situation, how has Portugal’s social experiment gone so far? For the most part, things have somewhat improved, and definitely nothing bad happened. Before the 2001 law went into effect, Portugal had a pretty bad drug problem, and a really bad problem with HIV caused by drug use, via infected needles. Since then, continued drug use has decreased by a third, drug court cases by two-thirds, the number of addicts has been cut in half, drug-related HIV cases have plummeted, and so have deaths by overdose.

Prevalence of drug use among all Portugese adults

However, the fear in the United States isn’t that re-classifying drug use from a criminal act to a health problem won’t decrease deaths, court cases and health problems. It’s that drug use will go up, because why wouldn’t it? Depending on who you ask, people either aren’t smart enough or restrained enough to not do drugs without the threat of a jail sentence. (Nevermind that half of American prisoners are there for drugs, and that the 40-year War on Drugs has been a trillion dollar failure.)

Well, it turns out that at least the Portugese know to stay away from drugs even if they get to keep their freedom. The above graph shows that definitely more people tried drugs since they’ve been decriminalized: the lifetime prevalence — how many people have ever tried drugs — went up about half as much by 2007, then declined a bit by 2012, but it still stayed above the 2001 figure. But the other numbers show that people only tried drugs while they were newly legal: by 2012, the amount of people that had tried drugs in the past month or the past year had both gone down from before decriminalization. So while experimental drug use went up, regular use went down.

This is probably because people know drugs are bad without any government threats, the same way they know that jumping out of a plane, even though it sounds like fun at first, ends up poorly. Yet, with proper precautions and supervision, thousands of people jump out of planes each year and walk away to live to tell about it.

US incarceration rate over time

But if it’s going so well for Portugal, why don’t more countries try decriminalizing personal drug use? Well, a few have:

  • Uruguay never criminalized it, and is in the process of opening government-run marijuana shops
  • The Czech Republic did the least they could under the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs: small amounts for personal use are only a misdemeanor, subject to a small fine.
  • The Netherlands are famous for not enforcing drug laws for ‘soft’ drugs, such as marijuana
  • In Argentina, the Supreme Court declared laws against personal drug use as unconstitutional, but this has been largely ignored by the government.

See also:

via Business Insider, Policy.Mic, Washington Post, and The Associated Press

Congressmen Ask Obama To Ignore Legalized Marijuana

As you’ve probably heard, besides helping to elect Obama, Colorado and Washington also legalized marijuana in the 2012 election — for recreational, not just medical use. Under federal law, marijuana is still somehow illegal for any kind use, medicinal or otherwise, even though a majority of Americans think it should be legalized, including Pat Robertson. And therefore, the president technically has a duty to enforce that law like all the others, despite the fact that he probably disagrees with it, since he was a giant pothead in high school — to the point where he was in a pot smoking gang that did not tolerate wasting marijuana.

Barry's friends were called the Choom Gang. Choom means "to smoke marijuana"


So what’s the point of a law most people don’t want, and which inexplicably classifies marijuana as being as dangerous as cocaine and heroin, despite scientific consensus that it’s less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol? What’s the virtue of a law that the past three presidents have admitted to breaking, without any consequences? Would we elect presidents that used to be thieves, domestic abusers, or tax evaders? No, but we elect ones that do drugs, because intuitively, we all know it’s not a real crime to have the freedom to do what you want, if it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

The odd couple made up of libertarian representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and liberal Barney Frank (D-MA) are maybe the only ones in Congress that realize this, and last year they sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level. It, of course, went nowhere — though Frank’s home state of Massachusetts did legalize medicinal marijuana.

Back in April of 2012, Rolling Stone magazine pointed out to Obama that he’s launched more raids on medical marijuana than Bush. Obama responded saying that his hands are tied, and the Justice Department can’t just ignore a law that Congress has put on the books. But, he has directed resources away from the medical marijuana industry, except in the cases where they are also selling to recreational users. Back then, recreational use was illegal throughout the country; but now that it’s legal in two states, what will the administration do? Before they retire in January, Ron Paul and Barney Frank decided to urge him to turn a blind eye and wrote a letter to that effect:

Dear Mr. President,

We urge you to respect the wishes of the voters of Colorado and Washington and refrain from federal prosecution of the inhabitants of those states who will be following their states’ laws with regard to the use of marijuana.

We have sponsored legislation at the federal level to remove criminal penalties for the use of marijuana because of our belief in individual freedom. We recognize that this has not yet become national policy, but we believe there are many strong reasons for your administration to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to set the policies they believe appropriate in this regard, without the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states.

Respect for the rights of states to set policies on those matters that primarily affect their own residents argues for federal noninterference in this case, as does respect for the wishes of the voters – again, on matters that primarily affect those in the relevant electorate. Additionally, we believe that scarce federal resources – law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, and penal – should not be expended in opposition to the wishes of the voters of Colorado and Washington, given the responsibility of all federal officials to find ways to withhold unwise or unnecessary expenditures.

We believe that respecting the wishes of the electorates of Colorado and Washington and allowing responsible state authorities to carry out those wishes will provide valuable information in an important national debate. Our request does not mean any permanent waiver of the ability of the federal government to enforce national laws should there be negative consequences of these state decisions – which we do not believe are at all likely – and thus we have as a result of these two states’ decisions a chance to observe in two states the effect of the policy that we continue to believe would be wise for the country as a whole. Those who disagree with us should welcome the opportunity to put their theories to a test.

Respect for the principles of democracy; respect for the states to make decisions on matters that primarily affect the residents of those states; the chance to conserve scarce federal financial resources – these we believe are many strong reasons for you to defer to the state decisions, and we believe that even those who do not share our view that personal liberty should dictate this result should have no objection to your acting on these principles in this case.

Update, 14 Dec 2012: It looks like the president agrees, because he has finally said the feds have bigger fish to fry and “it would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal”.

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From The Hill, via NPR

Medical-Grade Ecstasy Is Perfectly Safe

The drug MDMA (a.k.a. Ecstasy, X and Molly), was originally made in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical Merck during an attempt to make a pill that stops abnormal bleeding. About fifty years later, the drug resurfaced when people figured out it gave them a good high. In the 1980s, psychiatrists started experimenting with it during talk therapy to aid in communication, but in 1986 the DEA made it illegal and placed it in the same Schedule I category as cocaine and heroin. The reason? It had no medical use and a high potential for abuse. In other words, it was a recreational drug, and recreational drugs are not supposed to be legal… aside from tobacco and alcohol, since the former was protected by Big Tobacco and its millions of users and the latter was banned and then legalized again after the nation realized everyone was still drinking, and the only thing prohibition did was fuel organized crime.


Ecstasy pills and capsules


This week, the chief medical officer of British Columbia told the press that pure Ecstasy is perfectly safe and that instead of being banned, it should be regulated like alcohol. He also noted that street Ecstasy contains a lot of other compounds which make illegal versions of the drug unsafe. So given that it’s currently one of the most popular recreational drugs and used by millions of people, what the DEA has effectively done is taken a safe, legal substance and pushed it underground where it’s now unsafe due to the illicit nature of the drug trade.

This revelation is the latest salvo in a series of attacks against the prohibition of recreational drugs: earlier this year it was revealed that besides also being perfectly safe, LSD can cure alcoholism quite well, and last year a poll showed that half of Americans (which amazingly includes evangelical leader Pat Robertson) want marijuana legalized. Meanwhile, all three of those drugs, Ecstasy, LSD and marijuana  — all of which have been shown to be less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco — are still Schedule 1 drugs, along with cocaine and heroin. Other pills on the other hand, like ones for sleeping, are available over the counter and carry adverse side effects that include death. Clearly, despite widespread propaganda to the contrary, the purpose of prohibition is not safety.

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via NPR

Number Needed To Treat

In March, news came out that LSD was an effective way to treat alcoholism. (The thinking is that the profound hallucinogenic experience changes one’s view of the world, kind of like a spiritual awakening. Hallucinogenics have been shown to also reduce the rate at which criminals return to crime.) But how effective is LSD as an alcoholism treatment? The answer is 6.

That’s a measure called Number Needed To Treat (NNT), and it’s the number of people that will statistically be treated in order for one person to benefit from the treatment. So if 6 drunks are treated with LSD, 1 will give up the bottle. That works out to about 16% effectiveness, which means 84% of alcoholics would take LSD and the only thing they would get out of it is a psychedelic trip.

LSD is a highly-concentrated liquid, commonly distributed on the backs of stamps which are then placed on the tongue for absorption


Sounds like pretty meager results, but it turns out that medicine is a pretty poor science, and 16% effectiveness is actually pretty high. Things are so bad, that if the NNT is below 10 — that’s benefits for just 1 in 10 patients, or 10% effectiveness — that’s considered a very successful drug or treatment. Keeping in mind that an NNT of 1 means everyone treated will benefit and that the higher the number, the less effective the treatment, here are the NNT numbers for some well-known treatments:

A related measure is the Number Needed To Harm (NNH), which is complementary to the NNT. For example, the drug Vioxx had a great NNT of 2.2, but it’s NNH of 42 was a little too low for comfort, so it was pulled from the market. The moral of the story: find out the NNT and NNH of the drugs and treatments you’re prescribed.

In the meantime, LSD is still classified in the “most dangerous drugs” category by the UN and US, along with drugs like heroin and cocaine. This, in spite of the fact that LSD has yet to cause a single death, which is more than can be said about many legal drugs, like Vioxx. In fact, LSD is a fairly safe drug and was only banned as a backlash to its use by the counterculture of the 1960s, and in particular, by its leading proponent, Harvard psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary. The graphic above shows a rating of common legal and illegal drugs done in 2007 by a team of scientists; the drugs are ranked by how much harm they have the potential to do to society: LSD was on par with Ritalin, and both were well below alcohol and tobacco.

And below, a very interesting video of a 1950s housewife tripping on acid in a clinical setting at the Veteran’s Administration, back when it was legal.

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From NPR

Pat Robertson Wants Marijuana Legalized

It looks like the tide has officially turned in favor of legalizing pot: the very conservative evangelical leader Pat Robertson is saying that marijuana prohibition is doing more harm than good. Apparently he’s been saying this for over two years, and his reasoning is that the war on drugs is obviously a giant failure and that making recreational drug use a crime has been turning otherwise okay youngsters into hardened criminals. This is surprisingly sound logic from the man that said Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake were divine punishments. Given that Robertson’s demographic of religious right-wing baby boomers is probably the only significant opposition to the decriminalization of marijuana, it now seems a foregone conclusion that within a decade or so, pot will be as legal as cigarettes.


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From The New York Times, via NPR

PSA Posters Warn About Doing Art

The College for Creative Studies in Detroit has a new advertising campaign done by Team Detroit.




The danger of dabbling in art, of course, is the same as the danger of dabbling in drugs: an unstable life of poverty; always trying to do more art, always wondering when your next paycheck is going to come, living in a shack with no heat because art took any chance of having a real career away — all the while being involved in a string of intense but brief flash-in-the-pan relationships with other art lovers, who, aside from the onlookers gawking at the train wreck that is an artist’s life, are the only people that will spend time with them. And it should be needless to mention that there’s also heavy drug use throughout.

From Tek1Now, via Neatorama

Marijuana Isn’t Getting Legalized Anytime Soon

A couple of months ago, the White House added a “petitions” section to its website, the idea being that regular people could petition the administration for whatever blew through their minds. If the petitions got enough signatures (originally 5,000, now 25,000), Obama or one of his underlings would take a gander at it. One of the most popular petitions was to abolish the highly ineffective TSA, which we talked about before. And not surprisingly, legalizing marijuana was a blockbuster, gathering more than 75,000 signatures.

Today, the administration responded to a few of the petitions, including the one on legalization. The short answer is “no.” A slightly longer version of the answer is that marijuana is bad for you and has no proven medicinal value; but education, not law enforcement, is the key to curbing use, and so they spend a little more money on education than arrests.

No word on why the same arguments don’t apply to alcohol and tobacco, or why the state is in the nanny business to begin with — maybe it’s trying to earn money for college and nanny taxes are more attractive than stripping. It also completely ignores that the government’s message on marijuana being evil is diametrically opposed to the mainstream media’s message on it being the bee’s knees; somehow, between the billions spent on both sides, and Hollywood being way cooler than D.C., it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which way teenagers are going to skew.

So despite legalization being supported by a virtual majority of the population, drug prohibition lives to see another day and will likely do so until there is such massive support for legalization that it can no longer be ignored. Probably also on Obama’s mind is that, as the first black president, he should try not to do things like legalize chronic and declare fried chicken to be the national bird.

The entire response, written by the current Drug Czar (who reminds us that he is a former police chief), is available on the White House website.

From The White House, via Slashdot

Half Of Americans Want Marijuana Legalized

Since 1969, Gallup has been polling Americans every few years on whether they want marijuana legalized. That year, 12% did; it quickly rose to 28% by the late 1970s, though. Support languished in the ’80s, but since then it has been steadily rising, and now for the first time, 50% support legalization. Possibly due to the libertarian factor, support among the elderly and conservatives is pretty high too — around 30%.

The stars may be aligning, because earlier this year Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank introduced a sure-to-be-doomed bill to legalize marijuana. They were likely motivated by a report released in June by the Global Commission on Drug Policy which highlighted exactly how ineffective, expensive and tragically misguided drug laws are, and recommended that countries move to end drug prohibition. In 2002, the Coalition For Rescheduling Cannabis petitioned the government to change marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug, which puts it in the most dangerous class, along with cocaine and heroin. In 2009, the American Medical Association asked the same thing.

But in spite of all that, two weeks ago, the US Attorney announced a major crackdown on California’s quasi-legal pot dispensaries. And in July, the head of the DEA finally responded to the petition to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug with a firm no, saying that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Or maybe she was talking about alcohol or tobacco — it’s hard to tell.

From NPR

Drug Cartels Are No Longer Just About Drugs

Foreign Policy has an article pointing out that the Mexican drug cartels have grown very large and powerful (as evidenced by the brazen standoffs with the government in recent years) and as a result, they are now less like drug cartels and more like mafia groups. Mostly starting with efforts to launder money and continuing as a means to reap increasing profits with the increased power they command, the cartels have expanded into all kinds of money-making schemes, including: protection rackets, kidnapping, theft and corruption. The cartel members are now almost at half a million members, which is more than the Mexican state oil company of 360,000 and even more than the police force of 400,000.

Colombian police posing with Pablo Escobar's dead body


The article tries to make a misguided point by saying that despite the failure of the war on drugs, legalizing them won’t affect the cartels too much since they have diversified their sources of revenue; what it fails to mention is that the cartels may not even be around if they hadn’t gotten started selling illegal drugs. Not to mention that it’s a logical fallacy to begin with: assuming the drug cartels are here to stay with or without the end of drug prohibition, then legalization is irrelevant when talking about the cartels. If the devil exists with or without charitable donations, then charity is irrelevant when talking about killing the devil. However, charity is good for a whole host of other reasons. In the same way, there are a lot of reasons to end prohibition (e.g., to stop wasting taxpayer money on the drug war, to restore personal freedom, to treat addiction as a healthcare issue instead of a criminal one) and only one of those is to reduce illegal trafficking and the associated violence.

From Foreign Policy, via NPR

Drug Commercials Explained

A smart parody of the formulaic (and deceitful) TV commercials for prescription drugs, that most people have no business knowing about anyway.

Via Laughing Squid