And then, in 2001, the legislators did something very courageous and unusual: They ended the war on drugs. The government of Portugal admitted its defeat. Drug use was decriminalized. Instead of sending drug users to jail, the “non-problematic” drug users were left alone. Those diagnosed as “problematic” were only required to regularly appear before panels of psychiatrists and personal counselors for therapeutic sessions. The enormous expenditures for fighting the drug traffic were cut, and only a portion of them was now spent on therapy of the most serious cases of drug addiction.
Of course, it wasn’t so courageous after all. The Netherlands and Switzerland have had laxer policies about drugs for decades, and both countries have lower drug abuse than the rest of Europe. But Portugal, as a Latin, Mediterranean country, was expected to collapse under the weight of the increased drug abuse.
Ten years later, Portugal seems to be winning the moral war. Far from seeing an increase in drug abuse, the number of drug addicts have decreased to half of the number in the 1990s, before the end of the war on drugs. The streets of Lisbon are cleaner, and the drug traffic has declined in numbers. Drug use seems to be going out of fashion among the young people.