The Left Bloc and the Communist Party are reported to be once again preparing legislation in order to have cannabis legalised for therapeutic and recreational purposes.
The Social minority government’s leftist partners had previously attempted to have similar legislation passed, but it was rejected in 2013 and again in 2015 by the previous centre-right coalition government.
While Portugal decriminalised drug use at the turn of the millennium, thousands of criminal cases are opened against cannabis users each year. Existing legislation stipulates that owning or growing cannabis which exceeds ten days’ worth of consumption is considered a crime as it is not deemed for personal use.
As such, the 2015 report by the Addictive Behaviour and Dependency Intervention Service revealed that 85 percent of the 10,380 cases opened against drug users that year related solely to cannabis use.
The Left Bloc has said the existing legislation continues to criminalise its use, with many people who grow cannabis considered traffickers. “In other words, whoever plants cannabis at home for personal use instead of purchasing it on the black market can face a prison sentence”, the Left Bloc said in a statement, though it stressed it was unsure as to how many users were actually behind bars due to this feature of the law.
The Left Bloc had back in 2015 proposed that cannabis become widely available for therapeutic use. It also drew up a law proposal decriminalising those who grew their own cannabis plants and called for the creation of social clubs.
This legislation received strong support from the left, with even a number of Socialist MPs voting in favour. Perhaps surprisingly, the Greens abstained. With the recent shift in the political panorama towards a more liberal parliament, the Left Bloc and the Communist Party are now said by newspaper Público to be readying similar law decree proposals that will be tabled later in the year.
Party representatives have however agreed that proposals to legalise cannabis use for therapeutic and recreational purposes should be presented separately. The priority for now also appears to be to approve legislation that allows its increased use for medicinal purposes.
The Portuguese Medical Society has indicated that it too is looking into research that supports cannabis use in therapy, especially among cancer patients.
Recent research has meanwhile revealed that following changes in drug classification and respective punishment in 2001 in Portugal, no negative effects have apparently been felt here.
A report by the European Observatory for Drugs and Addiction (OEDT) confirmed earlier this decade that there had not been a rise in consumption in Portugal following the decriminalisation, nor had the country become sought after as a destination for drug users.
It said “figures show that, from the time of decriminalisation until now, there has been a positive evolution regarding the phenomenon of drug abuse and addiction in Portugal”. “It was also confirmed that Portugal has not become a destination for drug-tourism nor has there been a boom in the number of users following the decriminalisation.”
Several leading British publications back in 2001 proclaimed Portugal as a drug haven for tourists. The Times, BBC, The Scotsman and other publications all declared Portugal as the “New Amsterdam” at the time, quoting former Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas.
Portas was quoted as telling in The Times in an article entitled, ‘Portugal police won’t arrest drug takers’ that “there will be planeloads of students heading for the Algarve to smoke marijuana and take a lot worse, knowing we won’t put them in jail. We promise sun, beaches and any drug you like.”
The BBC meanwhile pondered whether Portugal had become “The new Amsterdam”, once again quoting PP leader Paulo Portas: “I fear that we will become, sooner or later, a paradise for drug addicts.”