In the nineteen-eighties most of the major industrialized countries of the world followed America's lead in declaring war on drugs by harshly increasing sentences for convictions and spending more money on investigations and prosecutions. The result was higher percentages of people in the democracies being sent to prison, sometimes even higher then in the totalitarian countries.
Minimum Mandatory Drug sentences are especially troubling for Clearwater Trial Attorneys such as myself who have seen the destructive force of the criminal law strike and destroy productive lives.
To the credit of our local judges and attorneys, Pinellas County has instituted an enlightened treatment for those who qualify, which will be described in more detail in a future blog. Adult Drug Court, Clearwater Drug Defense Attorneys
Yet for Florida Courts in search of justice some answers can be found from Portugal's experience. Portugal, a gateway for drug importation for all of Europe, buckled under European Union pressure to commit a huge percentage of its population to long term prison sentences, then Portugal relented. Recently, the New Yorker wrote about Portugal's solution, it success and its failure...
In 2001, Portuguese leaders, flailing about and desperate for change, took an unlikely gamble: they passed a law that made Portugal the first country to fully decriminalize personal drug use.
For people caught with no more than a ten-day supply of marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, or crystal methamphetamine, there would be no arrests, no prosecutions, no prison sentences.
Dealers are still sent to prison, or fined, or both, but, for the past decade, Portugal has treated drug abuse solely as a public-health issue. When caught, people are summoned before an administrative body called the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. Each panel consists of three members—usually a lawyer or a judge, a doctor, and a psychologist or a social worker. The commissioners have three options: recommend treatment, levy a small fine, or do nothing. In most respects, the law seems to have worked: serious drug use is down significantly, particularly among young people; the burden on the criminal-justice system has eased; the number of people seeking treatment has grown; and the rates of drug-related deaths and cases of infectious diseases have fallen.
Yet there is much to debate about the Portuguese approach to drug addiction. Does it help people to quit, or does it transform them into more docile drug addicts, wards of an indulgent state, with little genuine incentive to alter their behavior? By removing the fear of prosecution, does the government actually encourage addicts to seek treatment? In the United States, the misuse of legally sold prescription medications has become a bigger health problem than the sale of narcotics or cocaine. There are questions not only about the best way to address addiction but also about how far any society should go, morally, philosophically, and economically, to placate drug addicts.
Portugal Decriminalized Drugs. What Can the U.S. Learn? : The New Yorker
DEA, Federal Trafficking Penalties
Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences Drug Chart
Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective? | RAND
Here's a recent painting of a bright young couple eagerly awaiting their marriage license in Pinellas County, Florida.
Degas' painting (1876) portrays grim Absinthe drinkers in a cafe, imagine how they'll look when they see the bill.