Beautiful and sunny, Portugal is a pioneering country. The westernmost nation of mainland Europe has done the unimaginable. Well, at least it seemed unimaginable at the time. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. That’s right, from THC to LSD, heroin to speed; there are no criminal charges for personal possession. At the time, the assumption was that Portugal would descend into drug-fuelled chaos. It was in fact decriminalization that saved the nation from that. Almost 20 years later, the Portugal model has become a guiding light on drug reform. So what’s it like for marijuana smokers in Portugal, and is it legal?
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Marijuana Laws in Portugal
While progressive decriminalization policies are a win, it hasn’t evolved much since 2001. As such, the personal use of marijuana in Portugal is still not legal. You just won’t go to jail if caught with it. Portugal approaches the use of cannabis, and all drugs, as a medical dilemma. The trafficking and dealing of drugs (including cannabis) has remained a criminal offense.
Being caught with a small quantity (defined as an amount not exceeding that required for average individual consumption over a 10-day period) will result in a meeting with the Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Addicts. But in grams, what is a small quantity of cannabis? Well, I’ve searched the internet and haven’t been able to find anything more specific. I would imagine that 1 gram per day, or 10 grams total, would be considered for personal use. This is pure speculation though. The lower the quantity, the safer you’ll be.
If caught, the Commission will evaluate whether you require treatment for addiction. Often the only punitive response is the police seizing your supply, though further sanctions may be applied. The Portuguese model can be summed up as ‘recovery over punishment’. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t tread carefully.
Medical Marijuana in Portugal
In 2018 medical marijuana was made legal in Portugal. Herbal cannabis is not covered by medicinal cannabis laws, however. Instead, only cannabis-based medicines are available to patients.
Medicinal cannabis treatments are reserved as a last resort only. Before it is prescribed, other courses of treatment must be deemed ineffective. Portugal treats medical cannabis seriously. A patient requires a prescription and can purchase the medicine from pharmacies only. Further, medicinal cannabis patients cannot cultivate plants. The idea of home cultivation has been considered in parliament before, however, the laws have never been passed.
The Local Cannabis Industry
Portugal’s climate is perfect for the industrial growth of cannabis. This has led to Portugal becoming one of the world’s top exporters of legal marijuana. In fact, in 2016 Portugal’s 21 tons of cannabis exports were third in the world, only behind the UK (95 tons), and Canada (81 tons).
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To cultivate cannabis for industrial use, businesses must acquire a cannabis farming license. This license is provided by the National Authority of Medicines and Health Products. As of November 2019, only 4 companies are licensed to cultivate cannabis. It is projected that industrial growth will expand greatly over the next decade. In fact, some industry experts are predicting that Portugal might become Europe’s largest cannabis exporter in the years to come.
Despite decriminalization, Portugal has a less than favorable outlook on cannabis. In a 2018 survey, it was found that only 40.2% of respondents supported legal recreational marijuana for Portugal. Over 50% of respondents supported maintaining present laws. Respondents in favor of legalization were largely younger people from metropolitan areas, with older people from rural areas supporting prohibition. Portugal’s history of rampant drug abuse before 2001 may explain why older respondents see leaving the law as is their preferred choice.
It seems unlikely that Portugal will legalize recreational cannabis anytime soon. The public sentiment and failure of two legalization bills in 2019 illustrates this point. While medicinal cannabis and its associated industries have blossomed, many see decriminalization as enough. But as surely as time ticks, the world has grown to embrace cannabis. Legalization may not be a reality in the next few years, but in time it likely will be.