What Happened When Portugal Decriminalized Drugs?

The government in Portugal has no plans to back down. Although the Netherlands is the European country most associated with liberal drug laws, it has already been ten years since Portugal became the first European nation to take the brave step of decriminalizing possession of all drugs within its borders—from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between. This controversial move went into effect in June of 2001, in response to the country’s spiraling HIV/AIDS statistics.

While many critics in the poor and largely conservative country attacked the sea change in drug policy, fearing it would lead to drug tourism while simultaneously worsening the country’s already shockingly high rate of hard drug use, a report published in 2009 by the Cato Institute tells a different story. Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and author who conducted the research, told Time: “Judging by every metric, drug decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success. It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country.

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7 Responses to "What Happened When Portugal Decriminalized Drugs?"

  1. Hugo Machado  July 21, 2012 at 7:13 am

    I´ve just seen this video and as a portuguese citizen i do have to make a small correction: we did not decriminalize drugs. We decriminalized drug consuption.

    • Rose  July 24, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Good distinction….. Thank you for the clarity as ‘drugs’ and ‘drug consumption’ are definitely two entirely different things.

  2. Dominic Henderson  July 21, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Regardless of whether the decriminalisation applies to only drug possession/consumption, I think it’s important to realise how important it is to legalise all drugs and have a programme to help rehabilitate everyone who is a drug addict and not simply throw them in jail.

  3. Darivs  July 21, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Decriminalize your politicians people , and the decriminalization of the drug consumption – possesion will happen by natural sequence ! Peace !

  4. John DiGenni  July 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    The war on drugs is a well documented redistribution of wealth. It takes tax payers money and puts it into the pockets of corporations such as the industrial prison complex and military/law enforcement suppliers & contractors. Not to mention the laws keep the poor in check and other legal vices flooding the populace with their poisons. That report will probably help insure that drugs remain illegal here.

  5. Clara Afonso  January 23, 2013 at 3:20 am

    As a Portuguese I remember also very well why was this implemented. Our streets were full of little crime (robberies, etc) and too many addicts parking cars in exchange for money (or your car would be scratched) looking like zombies in our streets. It was heartbreaking & scary to see it or go through situations like being robbed. Police stopped focusing on the people with addiction as criminals, but the distributors. Addicts went from criminals to a new status, as patients that could be treaten. Dozens of official CAT (Toxicodependent Support Centers) were opened providing free metadone treatments for heroin addicts, and support on all drug related addiction problems. Drus are not legal in Portugal, but anyone can carry a certain amount of any drug for personal use (examples: cocaine 1gr, marijuana 5gr, etc), above the legal limits you might be charged of traffic. Free needles exhange programs were implemented in all pharmacies (every corner). It was not the decriminalization per se that solved the problem, but the whole logistics of drug abuse prevention & treatment that spread out through the country, and the police focusing on the big criminals and not on the thousands (likely millions since at least 20% must have tried some sort of illegal drug) of consumers or addicts.

    It’s nice to see this video, showing a succesful approach to drug abuse problems. But it’s very naive to say that ONLY decriminalizing solves the problem. Portugal did a huge effort in Prevention & Treament, and focused on the big traffic of drugs and not the little consumers.

  6. Eon G. Cooper  January 31, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Most drug “addicts” don’t even need “rehabilitation”, they just need a clean, pure product at a free-market price. We could even charge a reasonable tax on it to fund health care and education for all, as I’m sure tobacco and alcohol taxes already do if people weren’t stealing the money.


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