Portugal Decriminalizes Marijuana, Drug PossessionEU Turning Its Back on U.S., U.N.-backed Anti-Drug Strategies

Police may no longer prosecute marijuana or other minor drug offenders under a new law that took effect Friday. The law change, adopted by the Portuguese government last November, reflects the European Union’s (EU) growing tolerance toward drug use and non-violent drug users, and its support for harm reduction policies.
Under the new law, police will treat the possession of up to a ten-day supply of cannabis or narcotics as an administrative rather than a criminal offense. Drug offenders will be evaluated by a special commission composed of physicians, lawyers, and social workers who will refer them to counseling or treatment. The commission may also impose a fine.
Any pot or narcotics found by police will be confiscated.
“The EU in general and Portugal specifically are wisely electing to tackle drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal one,” said NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup. “Their decision is a clear refutation of the ‘do drugs-do time’ approach espoused by the United States and the United Nations.”
Not surprisingly, the decision drew an immediate response from U.N. anti-drug officials in Vienna, who claim that liberalizing criminal drug laws sends the wrong message to users. “The law, in effect, says that it’s okay to consume narcotics,” said Akira Fujino, deputy head of the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). He added, “There is a clear trend in Western Europe to decriminalize use and possession of narcotics and to view addicts as patients [and] … we are deeply concerned over this trend.”
The newly implemented Portuguese model is similar to existing drug decriminalization policies in Spain and Italy. Earlier this year, Belgium and Luxembourg endorsed reforms exempting marijuana smokers from criminal penalties. Presently, only four EU nations – Finland, France, Greece and Sweden – maintain criminal penalties for marijuana consumption.
Portuguese officials are hoping the new policy will curb the nation’s rising number of addicts and HIV infections, both of which have increased sharply over the past ten years.
For an overview of recent European drug reforms, please visit the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction at: http://www.emcdda.org. For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.