Drug use by minors in Portugal plunges after decriminalization

Graph showing that after decriminalization, drug use by 10th, 11th, and 12th graders went down significantly for all types of recreational drugs

Portugal decriminalized drugs in mid-2001. The effect on drug use has been a notable decrease in drug usage by minors at the same time when drug usage rates in the rest of Europe have been increasing. Glen Greenwald has more.

Drugs should be legal because you own your body, and the idea of a consensual crime where you are both victim and perpetrator, is anti-freedom and irrational. But for pragmatists out there who can’t get on board because they think that legalizing drugs will result in more drug usage by minors (the “for the children” argument), here is the evidence that it will not.

Update: Made it clear that this graph is not the overall population.

Also of note is that drug-related deaths have plunged since decriminalization. Read the full report, there were other benefits.

Update 2: From the report — 0.9 percent of people (15-64) in Portugal have used cocaine. In America, which has some of the toughest drug laws in the world and the highest imprisonment rate in the entire world… 16.2 percent of people have used cocaine.


  1. says

    Duh…we’ve been saying this for years, but those dumbass congressmen and women and our Presidents aren’t too smart to realize it. They just want more ways to control your life. Watch America, government is moving in slowly.

  2. Danny Carlton says

    Apparently you’ve already began using that which you want legalized, otherwise you’d have asked the very simple question: Who compiled the data, based on what criteria and under the influence of what agenda?

  3. Tom Huffman says

    This is a no-brainer. It has been proven before, but don’t look for the DEA to disappear anytime soon – they are big business now and would be out of jobs if we did the intelligent and made drugs legal…

  4. josh says

    danny you must be a cop no brains to see that there really are gray areas everything is not just black and white we in america could put away criminals that need locked up and save millions in drug war efforts. look up stats on how much is spent and how many lives are lost instead of treatment we put drug users in prison with killers

  5. Gort says

    Now will someone please explain to me how many of the folks that see this result (i.e. deregulation = alleviation of the problem) as a good thing are of the opinion that government regulation of the economy is necessary?

  6. Pharoah says

    There are too many Politicians, Judges and Policemen & Women profiting from drugs and the “war” to legalize them. If they were legal they couldn’t make their money. If the US wanted to stop drugs don’t you think it would have already happened ? Get real ! The Politicians of our country have become a disgrace for not standing up for the Constitution.

  7. Westphal says

    This is simply more evidence of the overextension of our imperialist federal government here in the States.

    We have nothing in our Constitution prohibiting drug use. At the very least, marijuana should be legal—God made it! The rest are manmade.

    Alcohol destroys far more lives than reefer does, and if people want to snort cocaine or shoot heroin into their eyeballs, the government is infringing upon our rights by preventing us from owning our bodies!

    Our country is headed for massive inflation in order to meet the socialist agenda of fewer than 300 people on Capitol Hill! 300 people ruining the freedom of 300 million!

    Our Founding Fathers had no intention of creating a welfare state like this: education for our children, healthcare for our parents, welfare checks for the poor (shouldn’t they turn in their cellphones in order to be eligible?), rebate checks for gasoline, stimulus checks to go on vacation…hell lets give a tax cut for everyone who breathes! All this will be paid for by the smart and the industrious–just like Karl Marx wrote in 1848!

    Just remember this—when poor people cut back, they stop going to McDonald’s. When middle class people cut back, they stop going to Six Flags and Disney World. When rich people cut back, they cut back on HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE A JOB!

    Obama’s tax cut of $1,000 will come in handy when you don’t have a job at all.

    This war on individualism, personal liberty, economic freedom, and self-reliance must come to end on November 2, 2010!

    But how do we get people to turn off American Idol and CSI to pay attention to their country sliiping away?

  8. Rusty says

    When did it become the job of the government to protect me from myself? If I want to shoot myself…they can’t stop me. If I want to smoke weed….they can’t stop me. Have drugs gone away? This “War on Drugs” has done NOTHING. Stop wasting our money on it.

  9. says

    I just wonder if we in the USA would be smart enough to cut our usage or would we go the other way. Seems to me the Swiss tried this before and their problem got worse.

  10. says

    The problem of decriminalization is still a legal one.Unlike alcohol, drug test only tell if you have used a drug in a certain time frame, not if you are under the influence at the time of your screw up. Until there is a test to prove whether or not a person is under the influence at a definite time period we are playing with fire. I can imagine a defence attorney saying ” my client was high 2 days ago and not under the influence when she ran up on the curb and killed the 6 year old child” or ” my client has not used drugs for several days and in no way was high when he backed into their coworker with a fork lift crushing them”

  11. VA Life says

    There are too many jobs tied to the War on Drugs. Don’t look for legalization anytime soon.

  12. Joseph says

    Do you want to get on a plane ,bus when the pilot or driver is a drug addict and not in control of all his faculties?

  13. Dan says

    Joseph – do you want to own an airline/busline, and subject yourself to massive legal liability by not having a testing policy for your pilot/driver employees?

  14. Roci says

    Don’t anyone bother to actually READ the report. A mild decline in a narrow age group was more than offset by a steep rise in use by the next older age group.

    In fact, overall drug use increased in Portugal, not decreased, as your headline suggests.

    There are plenty of good reasons for decriminalization, but your presentation of this report is simply misleading.

  15. Kirk says


    Any pilot or driver with a problem is much less likely to seek help when drug use is illegal.

    They are also more likely to use far more dangerous drugs that are harder to detect over time. Why use weed and have it show up for a month or more, when coke and heroin clear the body in a fraction of the time?

    Those are the kind of choices your oppressive policies force on people with a drug problem. You just send them underground make things worse for all of us.

  16. says

    the idea of a consensual crime where you are both victim and perpetrator, is anti-freedom and irrational – well put. Applies well to the moral panic surrounding “sexting”

  17. ici chacal says

    riiiight. like the legislators and prosecutors of the good old united police states of america will sign on to something that would *decrease* their powers over john q. citizen. it is to laugh.

    and how ’bout the police unions? and the prison guard unions? think they’ll allow passage of laws that would end up in cop/guard layoffs? think they just maybe have goodies they can blackmail uncooperative lawmakers with? (“it’d be a shame if your son got arrested and had to share a cell with the booty bandit, congressman. yep: that’d be a REAL shame.”)

    drugs are illegal because the powers that be LIKE IT that way. thanks to the drug war, they can now forcibly take your blood on a DUI stop. thanks to the drug war, their budgets have skyrocketed. the government buys them cool new military-issue toys to play with. they catch you carrying “too much” cash, they seize it and keep it. they get to plat SWAT ninja games on the clock.

    and on & on. the lesson of government, and their pet police/security forces, is that once they gain a new power/tax/regulatory oversight, they **never let it go**. if the peon ‘voters’ don’t like it, the legislators can freely tell them to pee up a rope – since the legislators are all aware of the prevailing 95%+ incumbent re-election rates.

    sit down. shut up. do as you’re ordered. or else.

    • Lee says

      Dont forget to thank Regan for the war on drugs, the most recent big push anyways. To forget this is disingenuous.

  18. Cynic says

    When you have a problem and don’t solve it, that is because you want that problem, hence, our benevolent government and the drug war.
    Our jails are full of folks caught in matrix of legal, social, psychological drug useage.

  19. Fitz says

    The reason the drug usage goes down is that the users died. Same thing happened in Norway during the 70s. Then in the 1990s the newspapers did an update story on those users. The newspapers found that most of those users died!
    I agree. Make it legal. Then the losers will die off and “we” don’t have to deal with them any more.

  20. Ted Fonda says

    Problem with looking at a end product chart is you do not know how the numbers were produced or manipulated.
    In the USA one of the main sources used to extrapolate drug use data is arrest records. If you are not arresting for drug use, possession, etc then apparent drug use would decrease.

  21. JD says

    Those that support prohibition, I have one question that I have yet seen answered.

    Alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s resulted in organized crime, police and political corruption and black markets. Keep in mind that alcohol is the most abused drug of all and is responsible for more deaths than all illegal drugs combined. If alcohol prohibition was a terrible failure and was repealed after 10 years, why do you believe other drug prohibition will work after 90 years?

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results, so goes the war on drugs.

  22. Veed says

    You all might be missing one importart part.

    This was for 10th, 11th, and 12th years of school. One segment of an entire society.

    Before you go judging whether the US should do this, look at data over the entire nation of portugal..

  23. James says

    Gort wrote:

    “Now will someone please explain to me how many of the folks that see this result (i.e. deregulation = alleviation of the problem) as a good thing are of the opinion that government regulation of the economy is necessary?”

    We have a winner!!!
    Yes, I have wondered the same thing. I see that no one answered your question…much to uncomfortable to acknowledge!

  24. rick says

    bull shit, drugs are the most prevelent reason for homicides, if legalized there will be more terf wars and drug robberies. Some people think they know what goes on.More drugs more murders….. more people driking alcohol more dui deaths.. you would think differently if your child got hooked on drugs…

  25. says

    Updated to note that this graph is a subset, not the overall effect. For minors, usage went down, which is the segment most people are worried about.

    bull shit, drugs are the most prevelent reason for homicides, if legalized there will be more terf wars and drug robberies.

    How many people die because of the turf wars between McDonald’s and Burger King? Or between ABC Liquor and Beverage Castle?

    C’mon Rick. Violence surrounds drugs because they are illegal. When you sell something illegal, you can’t go to the cops when someone rips you off. Illegal (but desired) goods create black markets, and black markets are attractive to criminal enterprises. The same thing happened when we made alcohol illegal in the United States. As soon as it became legal again, the criminal aspect of alcohol vanished.

  26. Terry Kelly says

    I’m a cop. I’m not a narc, I’m a general criminal investigator. That means I investigate all of the crimes that are the result of drug abuse and addiction; burglaries, thefts, assaults, homicides, sexual abuse, etc.

    While I don’t have a problem with legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, I fail to see the advantage of legalizing methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates, psychadelics, etc. These drugs are involved, DIRECTLY, with more than 70% of the crimes I investigate.

    Let’s take meth. People who use meth become addicted to meth. It starts with snorting, then smoking and finally injecting the drug, because it takes more and more to achieve the same level of intoxication over time. It becomes the central point of these peoples lives. They get high, steal to either buy the drug or the ingredients to make the drug, get high, steal to …well, you get the point. How would legalizing this “solve” this problem? Even if it could be bought at WalMart, they don’t have a legitimate income, ad would still have to steal to get the money to buy the drugs. We, as a society, would still pay the price.

    Yep, prohibition against alcohol didn’t work. But people are capable of using alcohol recreationally. I submit that is not possible with a large number of scheduled narcotics.

  27. Archimedes says

    I would like to know…

    Was it the use of drugs that has decreased or the merely the reporting of such use?

    Drugs in Portugal are not legal, it’s just not a criminal act to have drugs. So is it treated like a speeding ticket? Pay your fine, move on and try not to get caught?

    I wonder how the administration and execution of these changes have been handled.

    I’m of mind that there are just less reported incidences. If you take away the fear of punishment, people that normally would not have taken the drug will now try it because they have nothing to fear.

  28. that smell says

    archimedes – with all due respect,

    when you ask a child or teenager NOT to do something that you have unintentionally “glorified”, what do you think they do?
    exactly, they do it simply because they
    know everything (in their mind). It is simple psychology and human nature to want that which we cannot have.

    like everyone else has stated, too many of our social elite have a lot riding on the war on drugs which makes it virtually impossible for the people with lives to do something about it.
    our society has banned marijuana and has categorized it with heroin, do you not think that that makes it a little bit more appealing to the rebellious youth? drug use is the reaction to another problem…

    marijuana is not a drug; meth, crack, heroin, and lsd should remain illegal. the natural stuff such as weed and shrooms should be made legal. unfortunately, dumbasses abuse these substances. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION

  29. Jett La Rue says

    Terry Kelly: People who have an addiction have a mental disease. Sending them to be isolated from society, real life, is not going to keep them from going back to the same behaviour. From personal experience with others I know it does not. What these people need is support from the community and if anything the gross amount of tax dollars that go for incarceration could well be spent on rehabilitation. Yes stealing and other related crimes should be punished, but remember meth, smack, or crack did not commit these crimes, the people did. These people have gotten to a point where they need a drug to live. If you had diabetes and needed insulin would you not steal also? But putting you in jail will not help, and putting them in jail will not help, it only temporarily hides it with a large amount of cash.

  30. jen says

    wow alot of people are being rediculous. alot of drugs should not be legalized sure maybe marijuana, but it would be hard to tax because people can just grow it at their house.Some are saying that if the government were to legalize all drugs they would not make as much money… if drugs were legalized they could get thier money,it would be like any other business. probably alot of the money the government and other organizations profit off offrom drug convistions and fines goes right back into the system. we spend soooo much money keeping the non violent drug offenders in prison. to keep a juvenile in probation i could pay for a students 4 year college tuition in one year with the amoutn they spend on keeping a delinquent in correctional facility.

  31. jen says

    also it should stay criminalized but instead of being incarcerated they should be put into rehab facility to detox or there should mandatory meetings and therapy instead kind of like probation.Keeping an eye on them.what would convince a drug addict to stop if it is legal. Even criminalizing drugs isnt a big deterence. but we should stop all of this unnecessary spending on lost policies