This year, Portugal enjoys the tenth year of its experiment with decriminalizing all drugs. Since making this bold policy move in 2001, Portugal has seen crime, use rates, addiction rates, overdose deaths, and blood-borne diseases all decrease significantly. A paper published in 2009 by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reported that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled. Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana. Just last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, an international organization consisting of high level current and former heads of state, along with policy experts, released a report suggesting world governments give up the War On Drugs and consider more rational harm-reduction policies, including removing all criminal penalties for the possession and use of marijuana. The Commission, which includes former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, among many others, urged leaders to consider alternatives to incarceration for drug use to shift their focus toward treatment of drug abusers, rather than punishment and interdiction for recreational users.
In the US, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. The legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is still a topic of much debate; but, there are some states willing to go a step further and decriminalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Just this Saturday, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill now moves to the Connecticut House of Representatives for final action. Under the decriminalization bill, possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana would no longer be a misdemeanor, but instead would result in fines ranging from $150 to $500. Those under 21 years old would also face a 60-day suspension of their driver’s license.
In Michigan, the city of Ann Arbor decriminalized first-time marijuana possession of less than two ounces is only a civil infraction which only carries a $25 fine with no jail time or probation. The Detroit Election Committee rejected a similar ballot proposal last year, though petition requirements met. The ballot proposal was initiated by the Coalition for a Safer Detroit. This is the same group that successfully placed medical marijuana on the ballot in 2004. As first reported by the Detroit Free Press, the commission voted 3-0 to reject the proposal that would ask voters to approve a city code amendment allowing anyone over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of pot on private property.
According to the Coalition for a Safer Detroit, the 36th District Court records indicate that in 2009 there were 1,521 arrests for simple possession or use of small amounts of marijuana in Detroit. Each case requires a minimum of 5 hours to process at an estimated cost of $350 per hour, making the total cost of these unnecessary prosecutions more than $2.6 million per year. Decriminalizing the recreational possession and use of small amounts would free up the police and courts to focus their limited resources on more important matters – like getting Detroit out of national rankings as one the most dangerous cities, comparable to Baghdad.
Illegal drug use among teens will decline, the number of people seeking drug treatment will increase, and government resources will be spent more effectively. The studies have been done, the reports have been written; and, the numbers don’t lie. This is why it is not that legalization of marijuana that must be approved, it is that the prohibition must be ended.
If you have questions about marijuana drug charges or medical marijuana in general contact Samantha Moffett at (248) 624-5500