Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs?

Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs? This seems like an obvious answer. In 2001, the European country decriminalized drugs. Although possession and use was (and still is) technically illegal, authorities treat it as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense.

The success of this program has prompted other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, to attempt decriminalization.

However, there are significant differences between the two. While Portugal has over sixty therapeutic communities dedicated to eliminating addictive behaviors, British Columbia has none of these communities.

Instead, the BC government provides “safe care” brought to you by big pharmaceutical companies. The same ones that are helping to fuel the opioid crisis that requires this “safety of supply.”

In BC, if you get caught by the police with decriminalized drugs, they hand you literature. In Portugal, the authorities referred you to a “warning commission”.

So has Portugal really decriminalized drugs? On the surface, yes. But as we’ve learned with COVID, making something a “public health” issue doesn’t mean you’re not being forced against your will.

Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs?

Since 2001, Portuguese nationals caught with a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use will not be arrested or criminalized. Instead, the police refer them to a “deterrence commission” made up of psychologists, social workers and legal advisers.

The commission assesses the person’s drug use and decides whether they need treatment, education or counseling to reduce their drug use.

like dr Julian Somers told CLN: “They’re not saying that overcoming addiction means quitting drugs. They say overcoming addiction means becoming socially integrated again.”

The Portuguese realized that it wasn’t drug use itself that caused social problems. It was the individual’s relationship to drugs.

Cannabis connoisseurs are aware of how little the drug’s pharmacology matters. When we consume cannabis, some experience joy, euphoria or creativity. At the same time, others experience paranoia or fear. Some are social users, while others prefer to consume cannabis alone before bed.

Because the Portuguese government accepted this fact about drugs, it was able to develop a decriminalization policy that worked.

But has Portugal really decriminalized drugs? Because decriminalization is of no use if a “warning commission” can force you to behave or act in a certain way.

While the commission can impose fines, it cannot impose jail terms or force people into treatment or rehab against their will. But they confiscate your drugs. And in addition to fines, you can also be punished with community service.

Unlike BC where you can keep your drugs and hand you literature that essentially tells you to “just say no”.

Will Portugal succeed?

Portugal wants to decriminalize drugs

In 2001, overdose rates in Portugal were similar to those in Europe. In the first five years of decriminalization, drug-related deaths fell dramatically.

Since then they have been increasing steadily. While drug-related deaths in Portugal remain among the lowest in the EU, the overdose trend is similar to the rest of Europe.

Portugal also has one of the lowest levels of drug use in Europe. However, many dispute the data behind the Portuguese consumption rates.

Critics of Portugal’s decriminalization also argue that it has failed to address the root causes of drug addiction. Others have argued it doesn’t go far enough.

Of course, it is almost impossible to compare one country to another. According to the data, there were 33,290 “high risk” opioid users in Portugal in 2015. This is higher than the European average but lower than when Portugal was decriminalized in 2001.

Whether Portugal’s decriminalization succeeds depends on your criteria.

But if a public health “deterrence commission” can fine you, suggest urgent treatment, or force you to do community service – can it really be said that Portugal has decriminalized drugs?

Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs?

Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs? Technically yes. But not in the sense of decriminalization synonymous with legalization. And certainly not in the sense that decriminalization leads to legalization.

Decriminalization in Portugal was a public health policy. And as we’ve learned from COVID, categorizing criminal behavior as “public health disorders” isn’t always a step in the right direction.

We can draw on centuries-old penal laws and customs. A public health commission is politically biased. There is a lack of due process, transparency and procedural guarantees such as the right to a fair trial or the right to a fair trial.

Addictive behavior is a psychological problem. Has Portugal really decriminalized drugs? Yes, but drugs weren’t the problem. The problem was demand, not supply. BC didn’t understand that.

Suppose the only other alternative to criminalization is the authority of public health busybodies. In this case, it is not obvious that decriminalization is the preferred choice.

A better option is to legalize all drugs.

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