December 20, 2011 1:04PM

Richard Branson: Time to End the War on Drugs

Entrepreneur Richard Branson has just blogged about his recent trip to Portugal where he was investigating that country’s drug policies. Branson cites Cato’s landmark study, “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal,” several times in his post. Here’s an excerpt:

I will set out clearly what I learned from my visit to Portugal and would urge other countries to study this:

In 2001 Portugal became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

Jail time was replaced with offer of therapy. (The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is much more expensive than treatment).

Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker, and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail. 

Critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to “drug tourists” and exacerbate Portugal’s drug problem; the country has some of the highest levels of hard‐​drug use in Europe. The recently realised results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, suggest otherwise. …

Portugal’s 10 year experiment shows clearly that enough is enough. It is time to end the war on drugs worldwide. We must stop criminalising drug users. Health and treatment should be offered to drug users – not prison. Bad drugs policies affect literally hundreds of thousands of individuals and communities across the world. We need to provide medical help to those that have problematic use – not criminal retribution.

Read the whole thing. Check out the recent Cato conference on the Global War on Drugs here.