by Ben Sensi on 11/06/2013 | Uncategorized

Cannabis Social Clubs: Portugal will not legalise

The proposition to legalise the production of cannabis for personal use through Cannabis Social Clubs announced in July 2012 by the Left Front (Bloco de Esquerda) was being discussed by the parliament on Wednesday 8th of May 2013.

The proposition to legalise the production of cannabis for personal use through Cannabis Social Clubs announced in July 2012 by the Left Front (Bloco de Esquerda) was being discussed by the parliament on Wednesday 8th of May 2013.

Cannabis Social Clubs as a solution

Portugal FlagMP João Semedo from the Left Front Party (BE) introduced a bill to the Portuguese parliament last year aiming at legalising the national production of cannabis. The Cannabis Social Clubs model established by ENCOD (European Coalition for Just and Effective Drugs Policy) was at the centre of this pioneering law proposition.

The parliamentary proposal didn’t get a general session in the house, or a public debate, and was eventually abandoned. The objectives of the BE, however, were clearly targeting the illicit traffic in their country, where personal use is treated as a health issue rather than a criminal offence. This groundbreaking social policy was voted in nearly 12 years ago and has proven that treatment in response to drug addiction is more effective than a penal sentence, calling the bluff of local politicians and worldwide institutions alike.

Treat users while punishing dealers

To the Left Front, this isn’t enough. Indeed, the law that rightfully punishes illicit trafficking allowed a substantial increase in drug busts, without ever reducing either the risks associated with this black market or the influence of international drug barons. This leaves smokers with the option of providing for their consumption through “immoral” distribution networks, thus putting themselves in danger. The bill was a continuation of the policy established at the beginning of this century “focusing on a public health approach”, and aimed to allow the production of the world’s most consumed and arguably least dangerous drug for personal use. It is with this focus in mind that the party wishes to allow “fully responsible” adult (18+) users  to form licit groups in order to provide “the necessary quantity for an average user for a period of 30 days”.

A successful opposition

Portugal ParlamentInstead of a great public debate as Mr Semedo had hoped, the bill did not even get a general session let alone the approval of the parliament. Indeed, the majority voted against a project some consider as being unfounded and which “does not include any scientific thoughts”, as Social Democrat Laura Esperança explains. She assumes that “the continuous consumption [of cannabis] can lead to an increase of abusive and dependency cases, and the number of people considering their use of cannabis as a problem in their life”

A similar reaction came from the Communist Party noting the lack of scientific evidence that proves legalisation will reduce trafficking or that it will not increase the consumption of cannabis. According to the communist MP Paula Santos, the results of such a bill “would be the liberalisation of the market and the expansion of the cannabis use and sales”. She concludes that “the objective to protect the health and safety of the Portuguese people is unreachable in this framework”.

Lastly, the Portuguese Centrist Party  considers the proposition as “based on a hypothesis that do not correspond to reality”. According to Telmo Correia from the PCP, “[this bill] does not solve nor fight against the trade or the countries that exploit it. We are and will be against it because it concerns a totally decriminalised psychotropic substance and could provide a stimulus to its consumption”. He added that the harmlessness of the substance is “in no way demonstrated” or comparable to tobacco.

Pragmatic reactions were fewer

The Socialist Party was the most pragmatic in its reaction to the proposition of this bill. They will not support it as long as there is no preventive strategy associated with it. This “pushes people to refuse to eat even though they can” as Elza Pais said, in reference to the categorical dismissal by other parties. The SP also criticises the absence of the medicinal properties and this aspect of cannabis use in the proposition.

Upon introducing the bill to Parliament, Mrs. Helena Pinto from the BE recommended that “ten years after de-penalising the consumption of drugs, it is again time for Portugal to start giving the example in policymaking to fight against drug abuse” and “drug trafficking”.

“Today the law allows possession of a small quantity [of cannabis] for personal use. If a person grows the plant for this purpose, she is considered a dealer. This contradiction allows illicit traffickers to exploit this market. We are not talking of a harmless substance, but the threats to Public Health will be similar or even lower in some cases than those of tobacco and alcohol” she added.

Hope is still alive

The path to legalising cannabis production for personal use seems long and difficult, with much opposition. But the situation is a reminder of the parliaments’ reaction over ten years ago when outraged MPs considered the decriminalisation as an open gate to drug abuse, drug tourism and the almost certain increase in both. However, the Portuguese parliament has proved in the past that an alternative to a full-on war on drugs could be efficient in reducing the risks associated with drug use. It now rests with the people’s elected representatives to have the courage to take a difficult – yet necessary – decision for the health and safety of their citizens, regardless of their personal choice of lifestyle.

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