In the year 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, from marijuana to heroin. Since then, drug use has dropped in all age groups, and both drug-related crime and deaths are down. So is the prison population. This is great news for everyone except private prison corporations and companies selling their products to jails and prisons. In America, there are over 2 million people behind bars, and close to 5 million on probation or parole. With only 5 percent of the worlds population, America has over 25 percent of the worlds prisoners. If we become more like the Portuguese, those numbers would plummet.
Portugal took all of the tax dollars it was spending locking human beings away from society and redirected it to help them heal from whatever trauma and whatever pain had led them to want to numb themselves in the first place, and to assist with their recovery. Businesses were rewarded for hiring former drug users, not prohibited or discouraged from doing so. In Portugal, these people were treated, first and foremost, as the human beings that they are, not dehumanized and branded as criminals. Instead of using taxes to lock people struggling with addiction away in expensive cages, money was spent on treatment, and on creating opportunities, meaningful jobs, and purpose. For less than the cost of locking someone away, either locally or in a private prison in Arizona, we can show them aloha and treat them the way we would want to be treated.
Decriminalizing all drugs, or even making them legal, will not lead to masses of new drug users. It would make drug use safer for those currently using, and make recovery a far likelier possibility. With the stigma gone, we can view addiction the way we view diabetes or cancer. Our loved ones would have the space to address the root causes of their addiction, the space to heal, and community support to help in the process.
What happened in Portugal wasn’t a miracle. It can just as easily happen here on Molokai, as well as state-wide. Instead of building a new jail on Oahu, we should demand the state put our money to better use by creating programs to help current and former drug users. Our taxes should be spent empowering our brothers and sisters and allowing them the opportunity to heal and become active, valued members of the community, instead of locking them up and inflicting more trauma.