Just weeks after Time‘s Joe Klein declared “legalizing marijuana makes sense,” the magazine is once again extolling the virtues of liberalizing cannabis prohibition.
Writing in the Sunday edition of Time.com, author (and frequent media critic) Maia Szalavitz asks, “Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?”
Citing statistics from researcher (and frequent Salon.com blogger) Glenn Greenwald, Szalavitz reports that Portugal abolished all criminal penalties regarding the use and possession of cannabis (and other drugs) earlier this decade — opting instead to treat drug use strictly as a health problem. So what happened?
“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald. … “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.” (NORML Note: You can listen to audio comments from Greenwald on the NORML Daily Audio Stash here.)
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.
Writing on his own blog, Greenwald comments on the significance of his findings, as well as the fact that they are finally being recognized by the mainstream media.
Few political orthodoxies have more of a destructive impact than our approach to drug policy. Our harsh criminalization framework results in the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, breaks up families, burns tens of billions of dollars every year, erodes civil liberties, turns our police forces into para-military units, and spawns massive levels of violence and criminality — all while exacerbating the very harms it seeks to address. If a measured, rational debate over America’s extremist drug policies can take place in Time Magazine, then it can take place anywhere.“
Of course, to those who reflexively demand that we maintain pot prohibition, the very suggestion that eliminating (or softening) criminal penalties will not lead to an exponential explosion in use (much less be associated with a potential decline in drug use) is an anathema. Writing in the drug prevention and treatment newsletter Join Together, Jim Gogek offers the same tired allegations: facts be damned!
Legal marijuana would mean more access to marijuana. The number of marijuana users would spike, including teens. Problems related to marijuana use would spike. … Right now, there are 127 million alcohol users and 14 million marijuana users in this country – because one is legal and the other isn’t. But, most alcohol users don’t get intoxicated. … With marijuana, you get intoxicated every time you use it. That’s the whole point. … It severely hurts your ability to perform at school and work. It saps initiative and drive. It increases confusion. In other words, it makes you stupid. … Marijuana is the loser drug: That’s the big problem with it.
To their credit, the editors at Join Together have allowed me the opportunity to rebut Mr. Gogek’s claims, which I do here. Feel free to join the discussion.