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If Cannabis Is Legalized, Portugal Could Be A Window Into California's Future

by Wes Messamore, published

Despite the monetary promise of increased state and local revenues, and lowered costs for an already strained justice system, the Tax Cannabis Act still has some Californians worried.

Fox News' San Francisco-based correspondent, Claudia Cowan writes that "Critics, including most law enforcement groups, say legalizing pot will only hurt California."

As a guest on Freedom Watch, Judge Andrew Napolitano's new libertarian-minded Fox Business program, Sarah Palin recently said that police should focus more on "other problems" and less on recreational cannabis use.  The former Alaskan governor qualified that statement, however, stating that actually legalizing cannabis would send the wrong message to society- that legalization encourages people to use the drug.

Whatever arguments Tax Cannabis advocates may be able to muster in favor of their initiative, opponents can't shake the feeling that legalization would bring along with it increased drug abuse and all of its unsavory societal effects.

If cannabis advocates want to convince skeptics to vote for legalization in November, no amount of fiscal or economic analysis will be enough.  Nevertheless, skeptics need to be assured that legalizing cannabis will not result in the deterioration of their communities and neighborhoods.

What will California look like 10 years from now if the Tax Cannabis Act becomes law? A look at Portugal's drug policy might help provide a window into California's future.

Ten years ago, the European nation decriminalized the recreational use of all drugs (a reform that makes the Tax Cannabis Act quite modest by comparison).  The BBC reminds us that "there were warnings the policy would be disastrous and that the country would become a European haven for drugs tourism."

A decade later, Portugal has not only managed to avoid becoming a festering, unsavory trainwreck of rampant drug addiction and ruined lives- its drug situation has actually improved.  By all indications, the country has more positive statistics on drug use than any other in the Eurozone as well as compared to the United States.

According to TIME Magazine, when Portugal made its sweeping drug reform in 2001, it "had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe."  Only five years later, "illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled." And:

"Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana."

In 2001 many people in Portugal felt exactly the same way some Californians may feel about drug decriminalization now, and it's perfectly understandable that someone would feel that way.  But ten years later, the Portugese have found that legalizing drugs- even hard drugs- didn't wreck their communities or even cause a spike in drug use.

If Portugal is any indication, California has nothing to fear from legalizing the possession of a small amount of pot.

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