In the UK approximately 230,000 drug related crimes are committed each year. Studies show that an estimated one in three adults have taken an illegal drug in their lifetime; three million people have done so in the last year; and 1.7 million people have done so in the last month. Drug usage has recently started increasing again in the UK and is most commonly used by those between the ages of 18-22.
In Portugal however, drugs have been decriminalised, which means the automatic penalty for someone involved with drug related crime isn’t necessarily a prison sentence, but usually a fine, which goes towards putting people dependent on drugs through rehab. This occurred in 2001 and many feared that there would be a dramatic increase in use and abuse of illicit drugs. However, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use, feared by some, has failed to materialize.
It is important to know that the decriminalisation of drugs is not the same as the legalisation of drugs; it means that it is not a criminal offence to possess drugs for your own use - it is still an administrative violation, however, which is punishable by penalties, fines and community service.
Reasons for decriminalising drugs revolve around increasing the health and well-being of citizens of that region, something the British government claims to prioritise. The British Drugs survey of 2014 found that when asked if they would consider taking illegal drugs in the future, 13% of their sample of the UK population said yes. When then asked if they would take illegal drugs in the future if they were decriminalised, this number only increased by 2% to 15% of people who said “yes maybe” thus proving that the decriminalisation of drugs in the UK would not lead to a dramatic increase of the use of drugs.
Although some would argue that to take drugs the first time is a choice, and therefore people ought to be held responsible for their actions, at some point it stops becoming a choice: it becomes an illness, an emptiness that can only be fed these by toxic substances. A constant reliance on something cannot be fixed by putting that someone behind bars; removing one from society will not eliminate a problem that has become part of the person. Take an alcoholic for example: if you wished for them to be cured would it be the correct method to lock them up, treat them as a lesser person than the rest of society and ensure they have difficulty being employed and fitting in with society in the future due to a criminal record?
No, it is surely time we modernise our system to deal with drug addiction as the illness it is.