The Associated Press describes the fallout from Portugal's 2000 decision to decriminalize possession of drugs for personal use:
—There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.
– Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.
– Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.
– The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine—figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.
– The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.
While Portugal may be the country that has moved furthest from America's punitive approach to drug use, its policy is by no means libertarian, requiring drug users to undergo "counseling" from Orwellian-sounding Dissuasion Committees and in some cases mandatory "treatment." Still, its experience during the last decade shows that 1) addiction (as opposed to casual use) need not rise and may in fact decline when the government stops treating drug users like criminals, and 2) many of the problems attributed to drug habits, such as skin infections, blood-borne diseases, social marginalization, and squalid living conditions, are caused or exacerbated by prohibition.
[Thanks to the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman for the tip.]