Tag: Decriminalization

16 Years Later: What Happened After Portugal Decriminalized Drugs in 2001?

By the late 1990s, Portugal had reached a crisis point. Facing unprecedented rates of addiction, prison overcrowding, and a rapidly growing HIV epidemic, the country was in dire need of a solution. Change finally occurred when in 2001, it decriminalized all drugs, embarking on the first step of a great nationwide experiment.

Decriminalization is not legalization; drug offenders may still incur penalties, but the idea is to redirect enforcement resources and prevent flooding prisons with non-violent offenders. Not all decriminalization models look the same, but now that Portugal’s has been in effect for 16 years, we look back to see what effect this particular model has had on its society.

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Drug Decriminalization in History

In Portugal, drugs are still illegal, but any user carrying less than 10 days’ worth of illicit substances will simply have their supply confiscated. They will then undergo an assessment with a social worker, psychologist, and lawyer. Only a small fraction of users will experience further consequences. These can range from a few days’ community service to a ban on visiting venues in which the person is known to obtain or use drugs. Some high-risk cases may receive invitations to undergo treatment. Drug rehab is voluntary in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

Portugal has seen significant positive change in the realm of disease prevention, with nationwide HIV rates decreasing dramatically since decriminalization.

Portugal’s geography made it a hot spot for drug trafficking between Europe and Africa. Heroin grew in popularity in the 1980s, and despite the implementation of government-funded methadone and needle exchange programs, blood-borne illness had become rampant by the 90s. Though the country seemed to have consumed drugs at much lower rates than its neighbors, it still had the highest rate of HIV amongst injecting drug users in the EU, with CIA estimates claiming that by 2001, over 22,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS.

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Cannabis and HIV/AIDS

Still, the decision to decriminalize was not undertaken lightly. The only modern Western country to attempt decriminalization had been Italy, and its program failed to reap many discernible positive consequences. Many fierce opponents, especially those from the more conservative Social Democratic Party, argued that abuse would skyrocket and the country would become a hub for drug tourism. Ultimately, the more progressive Socialist party was able to push the law through, mostly due to its near majority in parliament.

The Effects of Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Model

Aspects of Portugal’s model have been used to either support or critique decriminalization as an answer to various social problems. While many of these statistics can be difficult to measure and interpret, it would appear that it’s had had both positive and negative impacts. Let’s look at a few.

Disease Prevention

Portugal has seen significant positive change in the realm of disease prevention, with nationwide HIV rates decreasing dramatically since decriminalization. In 2014, only 40 intravenous drug users tested positive for HIV, down from 1,482 in 2000. The good news doesn’t stop there–after a decade and a half of battling Hepatitis C with lackluster results, the Portuguese government committed to 100% coverage of the disease. Since then, 96% of those who finished treatment have been effectively cured.

Drug Use Rates

Many proponents of decriminalization claim that Portugal managed to decrease overall drug use, but it really depends on how we choose to interpret the statistics. Lifetime drug users (defined as people who have tried any drug, even once) actually rose from 8% to 12% between 2001-2007, then declined once more to 9.5% in 2014. ‘Problem’ drug users–those who have come into contact with the police or rehabilitation facilities due to their drug habit–seem to have decreased by more than 10%. However, these statistics could be flawed due to differences in measurements through the years. Past month and year drug use has remained steadily low, with only 5% of 18-24 year olds, for example, having used cannabis in the past month.

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Lack of information makes it difficult to plot usage of ‘harder’ drugs over time. Comparing Portugal to its neighbors, however, puts it in a generally favorable light. For instance, as of 2012, Portugal’s lifetime cocaine use per capita was about one-tenth that of Spain’s and one-fifth that of France’s.

As of 2012, Portugal’s lifetime cocaine use per capita was about one-tenth that of Spain’s and one-fifth that of France’s.

Crime Rates

Though we’ve seen some positive benefits, it should come as no surprise that large, sweeping changes to the legal system have also resulted in some negative repercussions. Arguably, the most glaring issue is the rise in homicides, which climbed by about 60% from 2001-2007. They have evened out since, though, and currently sit at a little more than 10% more than they were pre-decriminalization.

Incarcerations

The criminal landscape has certainly changed, but it doesn’t seem to be growing smaller. Incarcerations have risen slightly from 2001 to 2012 despite the fact that fewer than half as many people are now incarcerated for drug crimes. Those who are pro-decriminalization often point to this statistic as a sign that police are now unburdened from their duties in persecuting small drug offenses, and are now able to tackle more substantial crime. Others argue that lax drug laws have led to more crime, and back up their claim by referencing the growing underground population reported by undercover agents interviewed in the study What Can We Learn From the Portuguese Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs?

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Takeaways From Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization

Many people have cited the Portuguese model as evidence that the US should adopt a similar policy. It isn’t certain, however, that we could apply these techniques in America as it currently stands. The successes achieved in Portugal were not due to decriminalization alone–the country stands on a strong foundation of socialized public health care, which differs enormously from what we see in the US.

America also has significantly greater problems with intentional homicide, gang-related crime, and gun violence. A growth in the already prominent underground criminal scene could have disastrous social consequences.

Finally, it’s important to step back and remember that large-scale social transformation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Portugal, like the rest of the world, has witnessed unprecedented change since 2001. Factors including the technological revolution, the growth of the EU, and the economic crisis must all be considered. Still, anyone advocating for decriminalization should analyze the results carefully. From this data, we can reap valuable insight into the successes and setbacks which may lie on the road ahead.


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Maryland Marijuana Expungement Bill Becomes Law Without Governor’s Signature

Maryland Marijuana Expungement Bill Becomes Law Without Governor’s Signature | NORML

ANNAPOLIS, MD — Legislation permitting certain marijuana offenders to petition for an expungement of their criminal convictions became law on May 27. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took no action on the bill. Senate Bill 949 permits those previously convicted of a marijuana possession offense to petition to have their criminal record expunged. The law takes effect […]

Maryland Marijuana Expungement Bill Becomes Law Without Governor’s Signature | The Daily Chronic


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New Hampshire Lawmakers (Finally) Pass Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

CONCORD, NH — Getting busted for small amounts of marijuana in a state who’s motto is “Live Free or Die” will soon no longer result in the possibility of jail time.

New Hampshire will finally become the final state in New England to decriminalize marijuana possession, as the House of Representatives voted Thursday to give final approval to House Bill 640, sending it to the desk of Chris Sununu, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

Once it takes effect, the new law will reduce the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hash from a criminal misdemeanor — currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 — to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense.

A fourth offense within three years of the first offense could be charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.

Despite years of attempts to decriminalize marijuana possession in New Hampshire, currently possession of any amount of marijuana in New Hampshire is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $350.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), police in New Hampshire make around 2,900 marijuana possession arrests each year.

The New Hampshire House approved decriminalization bills in each of the last five years, only to see those bills die in the Senate.

Voters from two of New Hampshire’s neighbors, Maine to the north and Massachusetts to the south, legalized marijuana possession at the polls in November.

HB 640 was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors.  Text of the bill, as passed by lawmakers, can be found here.

Changes to the law will take effect 60 days after the bill is signed by the Governor.

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New Hampshire Cannabis Decriminalization Bill Heads to Governor

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire moved a step closer to joining the rest of New England in decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

The New Hampshire House on Thursday voted to remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who plans to sign it. The bill passed the House without debate.

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The House originally approved changing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation-level office. The Senate changed that to three-quarters of an ounce, and the House agreed to the change.

Supporters argue that the change will ensure young people’s lives aren’t ruined by getting caught with marijuana. Opponents have argued that decriminalization sends the wrong message as the state battles a drug crisis.

The legislation makes possessing the cannabis or five grams of hashish or less a violation-level offense with a fine of up to $300 for adults. Minors caught with either would be subject to a delinquency petition. Someone can be charged with a misdemeanor, if they are found with marijuana for a fourth time within three years.

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It says police cannot arrest someone for a marijuana violation. Any money collected from fines under the law will go into a fund aimed at alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment.

The House’s action comes a little after a week since Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would have legalized marijuana in that state. Scott said he thinks it still could be possible to pass a bill. He said negotiations have been taking place to address his concerns with the one he vetoed.

Maine and Massachusetts’ voters approved legalization in ballot measures last year.

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Brooklyn DA Challenges Sessions, Says Decriminalization Works

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has long advocated against prosecuting low-level marijuana crimes, especially since taking office in 2016.

In an opinion piece on Sunday for City and State New York, Gonzalez as was highly critical of recent efforts made by AG Jeff Sessions to pump new life into the war on drugs. He reiterated his view that the drug war “incurred enormous costs” both financially and in  terms of the effects on individuals and their families, especially among vulnerable communities.

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“My views on this issue are shaped by my work as the district attorney in Brooklyn and the 22 years that I’ve worked in the office,” Gonzalez wrote. “While keeping the people of Brooklyn safe is my top priority, I also know that we are never going to incarcerate ourselves to safety and we are never going to change our communities by only putting people in prison.”

Gonzalez went on to argue that drug abuse should be treated primarily as a health issue.

Trying to solve the drug problem by imposing ever-harsher penalties in drug cases was a misguided strategy. Decades of growing prison populations, rising costs and high recidivism rates among people incarcerated for drug use have taught us that a different approach is needed, particularly at a time when we are seeing the opioid epidemic spiral out of control, with tens of thousands of Americans overdosing every year. Rather than forcing these people into the criminal justice system, we should be offering them the option of treatment and rehabilitation, as we currently do in Brooklyn.

In 2014, when then-District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that his office would no longer prosecute cases involving possession of small amounts of cannabis, Gonzalez wrote and implemented the policy, which he described as common-sense reform for law enforcement in Brooklyn.

“It freed up police officers and prosecutors to focus on serious threats to public safety,” he wrote. “It is improving the relationship between law enforcement and the community. And most importantly—it is making our criminal justice system fairer.”

Data out of New York show that black people are nine times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people.

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While the Trump administration has advocated taking a strong law-enforcement stance on drugs, having recently pushed for harsh criminal penalties in a DOJ sentencing memo, Gonzalez’s piece advocates a rehabilitative approach:

While Attorney General Sessions is now directing federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in every case, we did the opposite. We examined each case on its merits and determined the charge that would hold offenders accountable, provide justice to victims and their families and provide the opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and return them to their families and communities.”

Gonzalez closed by noting that last year was the safest in Brooklyn’s history, which he attributes in part to the city’s selective approach to enforcement.

“Public safety does not require us to adhere to an outdated and ineffective ‘tough on crime’ approach. Instead, we need to be smart on crime, which is what we have done in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.”

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France Will Soon Replace Marijuana Arrests With Fines Nationwide

French President Emmanuel Macron

PARIS — The government of newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron announced intentions to soon replace marijuana arrests with fines nationwide.

Police in France will soon issue a simple ticket for the use and possession of marijuana.  Offenders will no longer face possible prison time or court convictions.

France’s Minster of the Interior Gérard Collomb said Wednesday the newly implemented government wants to implement nation wide cannabis policy, a campaign promise of Macron, within the next three to four months.

The move to a ticket-only offense is supported by the UNSA Police union, who have long pushed for the change in policy.  In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the union called the current process of arrest and prosecution cumbersome and time-consuming, noting that criminalizing marijuana possession was not effective in combating drug trafficking.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

New Hampshire Marijuana Decriminalization Measure Moves Forward

CONCORD, NH — Legislation eliminating criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses has been approved by members of the New Hampshire House and Senate and has the backing of Governor Chris Sununu.

House Bill 640, as amended by the Senate, revises state law so that the possession of up to three-quarters of one ounce of cannabis and/or up to five grams of hashish is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail to a civil violation, punishable by a fine only – no arrest and no criminal record.

New Hampshire is the only New England state that imposes criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses.

Because members of the Senate amended the bill, it must return to the House to be re-approved. House members initially approved the measure by a vote of 318 to 36.

On May 11, Gov. Sununu acknowledged that he “looks forward” to signing HB 640 into law.

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New Hampshire Governor Will Sign Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

CONCORD, NH — Shortly after lawmakers in the New Hampshire Senate voted to approve a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the Granite State, sending the measure back to the House to approve a few minor changes made in the Senate, Governor Chris Sununu said he would sign the measure into law.

“I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform,” Sununu said in a statement. “I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.”

Before the Governor can sign the bill into law, House Bill 640 returns to the House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly approved the original version in February (318-36) and is expected to concur with the Senate-approved version soon.

HB 640 was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors.

The version of the bill approved in the Senate would reduce the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor — currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 — to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense.   The original proposal in the House had called for slightly higher fines.

A fourth offense within three years of the first offense could be charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.

Despite years of attempts to decriminalize marijuana possession in New Hampshire, the Granite State remains the only New England state where marijuana possession remains a crime with the possibility of jail time.  Possession of any amount of marijuana in New Hampshire is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $350.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), police in New Hampshire make around 2,900 marijuana possession arrests each year.

The New Hampshire House approved decriminalization bills in each of the last five years, only to see those bills die in the Senate.

Voters from two of New Hampshire’s neighbors, Maine to the north and Massachusetts to the south, legalized marijuana possession at the polls in November.

Earlier this week, lawmakers in Vermont sent legislation to the Governor’s desk that would legalize the personal possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana for adults.

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Delaware Legislature Advances Marijuana Legalization to Full House Vote

Never in the history of Delaware has a marijuana legalization bill passed out of committee – yet these days NORML chapters throughout the country are writing a new future.

After organizing of heroic proportions, Delaware NORML has driven the phone calls, lead the meetings, organized the town halls, and created momentum so strong that yesterday, HB 110, to legalize and establish a regulatory system for distribution, passed committee 7 to 2.

Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, the author of the state’s medical marijuana legislation and sponsor of HB 110’s Senate companion legislation, said at a recent Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting, “Education is suffering. Revenue from legalizing marijuana could help struggling schools and seniors, among other causes and close major budget deficits in Delaware.”

According to recent polling data compiled by the University of Delaware, sixty-one percent of state voters favor legalizing marijuana.

Deleware resident? Click here to send a message to your lawmakers to support marijuana legalization in your state. 

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.

Time Runs Out on Medical Marijuana Fix, Decriminalization in Texas

AUSTIN, TX — Texas lawmakers only meet every other year for 140 days, and two heavily watched pieces of legislation were not brought to a vote in the House before a midnight deadline Friday, effectively killing the bills until the next regular legislative session begins in January 2019.

The language of the two bills — House Bill 81, which would decriminalize marijuana possession, and House Bill 2107, which would fix the state’s ineffective medical marijuana law — could still be attached to any bills still alive in the legislature in the form of amendments.

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Thank you for visiting MDMMCC.com, the premier Medical Marijuana Certification Center in Maryland. Our Mission at the Maryland Medical Marijuana Certification Clinics (MDMMCC) is to provide the certification necessary for qualified patients to obtain Medical Marijuana in compliance with the Maryland Medical Marijuana Laws in the State of Maryland.  MDMMCC will have offices open throughout Maryland.