Dec 2021 Week 1 – Two Things I Did Not Know About Portugal

Well, turns out that writing weekly is not so easy!! Those who follow my blog know that I missed posting over the last few weeks. Nonetheless, I have been trying to tame my perfectionist tendencies and hence, I will try to pick up from where I left off and catch up on the writing spree again.  

Sharing some of the things that caught my attention over last few weeks… 

DECRIMINALIZATION OF DRUGS 

Few weeks ago, I read the news that Rhode Island has gone ahead with experimenting decriminalization of drugs. 

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

In India, I heard about drug use distantly. I attended college in North India, a region where drug use is most prevalent in India. In India, all drugs were illegal and hence, the subject was pretty much a taboo. In US, Marijuana is legal in several states and the drug scene was a big cultural shift for me. Existence of swanky weed stores was baffling at first. But eventually, marijuana felt commonplace as you could smell it pretty much anywhere in the city. While the smell still disgusts me, I could see some reason in why marijuana was legalized, especially in the context of medical benefits. 

But in the next few years, I started hearing news that some states are planning to decriminalize smaller quantities of even other drugs like cocaine. 

I was bewildered by these discussions but also very curious about why lawmakers and social workers are even considering such moves in the first place. Naïve me could not see any upside to this. But I got some more perspective after listening to a podcast (unfortunately, don’t remember what podcast) and reading some articles online. 

I learnt that several European nations have decriminalized drugs for a while. For example, Portugal in 2001. Sharing some relevant facts borrowed from the article referenced at the bottom of this post. These stats are very interesting and suggest the benefits of decriminalization. 

“Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001. More than a decade later, drug use has remained about the same – but arrests, incarceration, disease, overdose and other harms are all down

  • Portugal’s drug use rates remain below the European average and far lower than rates of drug use in the U.S. 
  • Between 1998 and 2011, the number of people in drug treatment increased by more than 60%. 
  • The number of new HIV diagnoses dropped dramatically – from 1,575 cases in 2000 to 78 cases in 2013 – and the number of new AIDS cases decreased from 626 in 2000 to 74 cases in 2013. 
  • Drug overdose fatalities also dropped from about 80 in 2001 to just 16 in 2012. 
  • The number of people arrested and sent to criminal courts for drug offenses annually declined by more than 60% following decriminalization. 
  • The percentage of people behind bars in Portugal for drug law violations also decreased dramatically, from 44% in 1999 to 24% in 2013.” 

It seems counterintuitive at first but here is something from the article I read: Data from the U.S. and around the world suggests that treating problematic drug use as a health issue, instead of a criminal one, is a more successful model for keeping communities healthy and safe.” My understanding now is that the intent of decriminalizing is not to encourage more drug use but instead to provide a path for those seeking a way out of their addiction. It has been established that drug use cannot be prevented as there will always be a black market even if not legalized. But decriminalizing would enable people to discuss their drug use without being legally penalized, thus paving a way to obtain help and support. People who may have taken refuge in drugs at some point in their lives may continue to have a chance at rebuilding their life. Also, the decriminalization applies only to small quantities so theoretically it should not encourage the drug business.  

Talking about Portugal, I learnt about a place there called Nazare. This was in the context of big wave surfing…something that has amazed me of late. It is a thrill that surely doesn’t need any drugs.

BIG WAVE SURFING 

I went to Hawaii this November and that is how surfing was on my mind. Watching surfers has fascinated me. Particularly, big wave surfing blew my mind. It is quite different from the regular surfing. As you can imagine, it is much more challenging, unpredictable and dangerous. While I could not see it live in action, even imagining it is exciting. I wanted to watch videos on it and luckily, the in-flight entertainment on my way back had a docuseries called the 100 Foot Wave (HBO Max). The documentary focuses on one of the legends in the sport called Garett McNamara who is from Hawaii. Boy I was amazed by his guts!! I was hooked to the documentary and highly recommend it. The first episode talks about Garett’s pursuit of the biggest and most challenging surf wave at Nazare, Portugal and the effort involved in making it the next big wave surfing destination after Jaws in Hawaii. 

The big wave surfers and their daredevil stunts gave me a much needed dose of inspiration. I don’t have the courage to attempt that. I don’t know if I could even surf someday. But what inspired me was the passion of the big wave surfers to give their all to the sport and most importantly, their mindset on facing fear. As one of the big wave surfers described, there is immense fright before you go in. While you are in the wave, it is very easy to be overwhelmed. The fear is very real as one could literally die. However, as they said, getting on the wave is a point of no return and the only way out is forward.  

The 100 Foot Wave docuseries reminded me of another movie that I have to catch up on – Free Solo (National Geographic). It is on a similar theme but involves the sport of rock climbing. I was inspired by that when I went to Yosemite National Park earlier this year.  

Beyond their courage and mindset, what also inspires me about these daredevils is their relentless pursuit of a unique path in life. I’m sure people would have called crazy or extremist before they achieved the success and fame that they have. But these daredevils listened to their own calling and followed a certain life purely for the love and passion of it, not for pleasing others or to fit in. Also, when you get stuck in the rut, such stories provide hope that there are so many ways to live an amazing and passionate life.   

REFERENCES

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