In February, 2009, the Globe and Mail estimated that all levels of government had spent $1.4 billion dollars on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side since 2000. If the article is correct, that works out to $230K per person, in addition to what the government spends on the average citizen. Has there been progress? Not much, apparently. Anecdotally, the neighbourhood feels as (if not more) sketchy and broken as it did a decade ago.
I’m an advocate of radical solutions to the drug problem that’s at the heart of the Downtown East Side. I, for example, think we ought to give free heroin to drug addicts. I’m also a fan of decriminalization, so I was intrigued to read this report on Portugal’s 2001 decision to “abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine”:
The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, 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.
“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”
There are plenty of numbers in the article, but it makes a pretty compelling case. I’d also be curious about related crime trends, such as drug-related violence, robberies and so forth. I favour decriminalization (and free heroin for addicts) because it reduces or removes the economic incentives around selling and procuring illegal narcotics.