Portugal’s Drug Laws – A New European Model

In 2001 Portugal changed its drug laws to decriminalise all cases of personal drug possession for all hard and soft drugs. The country had eventually come to the point where it realised that users of cannabis had never caused a problem to anyone, and from that moment onwards no cannabis user could be arrested for ‘personal possession’ of their recreational or medical weed. Hard drug users were a different problem, their drug habits did cause wider problems for society and acute problems for many of the users themselves as well as their loved ones. Undeterred by hard-line criticism from European neighbours Portugal took the brave step of decriminalising the use of hard drugs too. Whilst users were safe, dealers could still be prosecuted.

Overnight there were sweeping changes. Courts were free from the daily ritual of criminalising perfectly decent citizens for petty drug offences. The police suddenly had less people to waste time and money arresting. There were other changes too, jail overcrowding began to ease. The probation service was able to focus on career criminals rather than the weekend joint smokers. Treatment centres found that hard drug users were no longer afraid to ask for help.

The really important changes were the reductions seen in hard drug addiction levels and the massive reductions in HIV transmission between hard drug users as the drug addicts were no longer afraid to ask for help from medical outreach workers. Cases of people overdosing from hard drugs dropped by over 25%. The rates of HIV transmission from injecting drugs dropped by a massive 75% as needle exchange schemes were set up. Accurate numbers are hard to find as the true extent of drug users before the 2001 laws is simply not known. Now that heroin was legal the addicts had nothing to fear from seeking help, before 2001 their true numbers were hidden. The financial and social benefits from decriminalising hard and soft drugs were significant and ongoing, this was a win-win situation for Portugal and has become an example of how politicians in other countries should look at drug problems. Each hard drug addict can become a mini crime-wave leaving a trail of personal and financial destruction behind them. Being able to find and help these people saved Portugal both money and misery. Every HIV case that was avoided saved the country several thousand euro’s each month in medicine and treatment costs.

Portugals next step is to go one step beyond decriminalisation and actually legalise drugs. This is a brave move but the benefits are too important to ignore. Legalisation would have the added advantage of wiping out entire criminal networks overnight with massive benefits to society. Legalisation of soft drugs would harm absolutely no-one as well as undermining the entire illegal (and therefore untaxed) criminal gangs that run some pretty well financed operations. I would also like to see more Governments follow the example of the Czech Republic and allow people to grow their own plants, the Czech’s are allowed 5 plants but 10-15 would be better in my opinion as you would be able to retain a few elite mother plants as well as enjoy growing a few different strains.

Here in Holland the liberal approach to cannabis is under constant attack by moralising politicians blaming ‘drug tourists’ for traffic noise, litter, parking problems and anything else that they think might get them a few votes. Dutch Passion gets lots of mail on this subject. Recently some politicians attempted to clamp down on coffeeshops by proposing membership schemes for Dutch citizens only (no tourists). The plan was that a coffeeshop would be limited to 1000-1500 local members, however opponents to these crazy plans have (so far) successfully argued against them. A recent Dutch High Court decision has argued that these plans are both unworkable and discriminatory. After all you could be living and working in Holland yet still have a ‘foreign’ passport. I love it when the legal system actually works in favour of the stoners!

The anti-cannabis focus is not just in Amsterdam, the anti-cannabis Dutch politicians are looking at ways of stopping foreigners getting their weed in coffeeshops in Dutch border cities. For a long time stoners from France, Germany, Belgium etc that live near the Dutch Border would simply drive into Holland to their nearest coffeeshop to get their weed. Again, so far, it looks like the stoners are on top in this debate as there is no easy way (or legal way) to discriminate against ‘foreigners’. But there is still a long way to go. It is more-or-less certain that the Amsterdam coffeeshops are here to stay and most probably coffeeshops elsewhere are safe too. The debate continues.

Are the worlds governments ready for true decriminalisation yet I wonder? Eventually someone will try it and realise how wrong we were for so long. In the meantime the numbers of people becoming self sufficient in their weed supply continues to grow and grow. Dutch Passion are proud to supply them their seed, we have been here for 25 years and hopefully we will still be here in another 25 years.

Dutch Joe

August 19th 2011

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