Where |Portugal

Capital |Lisbon

Inhabitants |10427301

Legal Status |decriminalized

Medical Program |yes

by Seshata on 02/05/2016 | Legal & Politics

Legal status of cannabis in Portugal – an overview

Law In 2001, Portugal famously overhauled its drugs policy to allow for a system based on treatment rather than punitive penalties – making possession of personal quantities of all drugs, including cannabis, a non-criminal offence. Since then, Portuguese society has experienced major benefits, including a drop in “hard” drug use.


Legal Status of Cannabis in Portugal

Legality of Cannabis Possession, Sale and Cultivation

Cannabis Consumption and Possession

Portugal’s drug law is based on the Decree Law 15/93 of January 22, 1993. This law regulates various aspects of the criminal code relating to drugs, including penalties, treatment orders, crime prevention, and so on, and makes a clear distinction between crimes of trafficking and lesser crimes of possession. It also set out lists of controlled substances: heroin is in list 1a, cocaine in list 1b, and cannabis in list 1c.

Decree Law 15/93 was heavily modified and partially revoked by the introduction of Law 30/2000, which was formulated in 1999 and implemented in 2001. Prior to July 2001, use of cannabis and other drugs was considered a criminal offence that was punishable by up to three months’ imprisonment or a fine. If the quantity of drugs seized exceeded three days’ worth to an individual user, the penalty was increased to a maximum of one year’s imprisonment or a fine. Sentences could be suspended if the individual was an occasional user or first-time offender.

In 2000, Law 30/2000 was passed, which formally decriminalized the consumption and possession of all illegal drugs insofar as they are found in small quantities and for personal use. Consumption and use are both still considered to be administrative offences, and may be punishable by fines or rehabilitation orders, but in practice many cases are suspended. In cases where the amount in question exceeds that deemed necessary for personal use, individuals may be subject to up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 120 day-rates (day rates are a form of financial penalty common in Europe, based on the offender’s daily income).

Portugal is a small nation on the western edge of Europe that prides personal freedom, and which decriminalized all drugs in 2001 (© OliverC999)
Portugal is a small nation on the western edge of Europe that prides personal freedom, and which decriminalized all drugs in 2001 (© OliverC999)

According to the new law, individuals found in possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use (in quantities not exceeding that required for an average individual over ten days of use) cannot be subject to criminal penalties. In such cases, the drugs will be seized and the case transmitted to a local Commission charged with implementing a rehabilitation strategy. The majority of such cases end up with legal proceedings being suspended; around 10% of cases are punished with monetary penalties. Furthermore, if a treatment order is issued, the individual may choose not to undertake it without incurring any penalty.

What constitutes a daily personal requirement for a drug is codified in Portuguese law as: heroin 0.1g; cocaine 0.2g; cannabis 2.5g; hashish 0.5g; delta-9-THC 0.05g; amphetamine 0.1g. This implies that the assumed potency of hashish is no more than 10% and cannabis no more than 2% in THC, although many commercial varieties far exceed that.

Sale of Cannabis

Portuguese law differentiates between different types of drug trafficking both according to the substance in question, the state of addiction of the defendant, and the quantity of the substance in question.

For cannabis, which is classed as list I, trafficking crimes are punishable by custodial sentences of between 4 and 12 years. The 4-12 year range is also applied to substances in lists II and III, while traffic in list IV drugs (tranquillisers and analgesics) is punishable by 1–5 years’ imprisonment.

Since decriminalizing all drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen a rapid decline in the number of injecting heroin addicts(© B.A.D.)
Since decriminalizing all drugs in 2001, Portugal has seen a rapid decline in the number of injecting heroin addicts(© B.A.D.)

If the defendant is an addict, and has committed the crime of trafficking in order to supply his or her own needs, the penalty is reduced to a maximum of 3 years’ imprisonment for lists I-III and a maximum of 1 year’s imprisonment for list IV.

For a defendant found to be conducting “traffic of minor importance”, penalties may be significantly reduced. Traffic of minor importance is that of smaller quantities, less-harmful substances, and without aggravating circumstances; in such cases, a maximum of 1–5 years’ imprisonment (lists I-III) or up to 2 years’ imprisonment (list III) are levied.

Aggravating circumstances may increase penalties considerably. For example, evidence of criminal association (involvement in organized crime) can lead to custodial sentences of 10–25 years.

Cultivation of Cannabis

Cultivation of cannabis is illegal in Portugal, even small crops intended for personal use. In fact, the Law 30/2000 specified that while custodial sentences for drugs were to be repealed, cultivation was to be excepted from this. Even now, after fifteen years of successful decriminalization, the Portuguese authorities remain surprisingly inflexible in their attitudes towards cannabis cultivation, and the risk of prosecution for growers remains high.

Recently (May 2013), a motion brought to parliament by the Left Bloc group of political parties, which aimed to decriminalize the cultivation of small amounts of cannabis for personal use by individuals or social clubs, was rejected by the ruling coalition. Furthermore, an amendment implemented in 2003 actually criminalized the sale and possession of any cannabis seed not certified as of a European hemp variety, meaning that Portugal is one of very few European nations to criminalize cannabis seeds, as well as banning the sale of equipment intended for cultivation. Thus, despite the general trend towards liberalization, it seems that opposition to cannabis cultivation is not likely to soften considerably in the near future.

Spain’s thriving cannabis scene dwarfs that of Portugal, which imports much of its cannabis from its larger neighbour (© Cannabis Culture)
Spain’s thriving cannabis scene dwarfs that of Portugal, which imports much of its cannabis from its larger neighbour (© Cannabis Culture)

This remarkable contradiction is one of the most striking downfalls of Portugal’s decriminalization experiment, as it keeps the means of production of the country’s most commonly used drug out of the individual’s hands, and forces consumers to rely on criminal means of supply.

The campaign for legal cannabis cultivation is perhaps not so strident in Portugal as it is in many other European nations, partly due to the high risk of prosecution and harsh penalties. Furthermore, Portugal’s neighbouring country of Spain has such a well-developed cannabis market that many users in Portugal rely on cannabis and hashish of Spanish provenance, which is either grown in Spain or imported from Morocco, in the case of hashish. However, a small subculture of cannabis growers certainly exists, although their existence and work is generally highly secretive.

Medical Cannabis in Portugal

There are currently no specific medical cannabis laws on Portugal’s books, although the medical cannabis preparation Sativex has been legally available in the country since 2012. Following the defeat of the Left Bloc’s proposal to decriminalize personal cultivation of cannabis in 2013, it appears no further efforts to bring about legislative change in Portugal have been made.

In April 2015, Minister for Justice Paula Teixeira da Cruz publicly announced her support for the decriminalization of cannabis cultivation and the adoption of a social club model that would allow individuals to access cannabis for personal and medicinal reasons; however, da Cruz has now left office, and it does not appear that her comments led to any significant change.

Graffiti commemorating the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which saw an end to a period of military dictatorship and ushered in a new era of social experimentation (© Jeanne Menj)
Graffiti commemorating the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which saw an end to a period of military dictatorship and ushered in a new era of social experimentation (© Jeanne Menj)

In 2014 Portugal’s National Drug Authority issued for the first time a license to a company listed as Terra Verde to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes, apparently with the intention of supplying GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK company responsible for bringing the cannabis preparation Sativex to market. According to statements released by the National Drug Authority, the crop licensed to be grown in Portugal will contain THC levels not exceeding 2%, with CBD levels considerably higher. However, it is not clear if the plan has gone ahead, or what the results have been thus far.

History of Cannabis in Portugal

Paula Teixeira da Cruz, former Minister for Justice, publicly announced support in 2015 for the decriminalization of cannabis cultivation and the adoption of the social club model (© Wikimedia Commons)
Paula Teixeira da Cruz, former Minister for Justice (© Wikimedia Commons)

As a significant power in Asia and Africa during the Colonial period, the Portuguese had significant opportunities to encounter cannabis during the course of their overseas operations. The Indian state of Goa (once a Portuguese colony) has a long history of cannabis use, as do the African nations of Mozambique and Angola, both of which were territories controlled by the Portuguese for long periods of their history. In fact, it is even thought that the Portuguese were instrumental in bringing cannabis to Brazil in the early part of the 16th century, either themselves or through the transport of slaves and workers from the colonies to the Brazilian plantations. Thus, it is likely that Portuguese traders were bringing back hashish and cannabis to their home country for several hundred years.

As well as this, Portugal has been cultivating hemp for centuries, and made extensive use of hemp fibres in rope- and sail-making, which greatly contributed to the nation’s seafaring ability and the development of its empire. Today, Portugal still cultivates minor amounts of industrial hemp.

In the modern era, the liberalization policies were shaped in response to an alarming increase in the rate of drug addiction that occurred in the years following the Carnation Revolution of 1974. The reasons behind the explosion in recreational drug use during this period are not clear; however, the nation was in a state of ongoing turbulence, and it is thought that the new-found sense of freedom and experimentalism that pervaded society found an outlet in use of drugs, which unfortunately escalated into rampant use of hard drugs, in particular heroin.

In the 1990s, the heroin epidemic reached frightening proportions, and the government began to look at alternative drug policies that would assist in solving the crisis. It was decided that a harm-reduction approach that focused on rehabilitating users would be appropriate, and that personal quantities of drugs would be decriminalized to reflect this.

What Next for Cannabis in Portugal?

The policy of decriminalization has been widely accepted as successful, and Portugal has been cited as an example for other countries seeking to adopt more liberal and less punitive drug policies. Problem drug addiction has decreased, and problems anticipated by opponents of the scheme, such as increases in drug tourism, have not come to light. As well as this, HIV infection rates among injecting drug users have fallen (a result of improved needle exchange and care schemes), and drug-induced deaths have fallen sharply. An excellent resource showing more of the consequences of Portugal’s decriminalization policy can be found here.

Portugal has a long tradition as a seafaring nation, and hemp was in widespread use for centuries in rope- and sail-making (© SantiMB.Photos)
Portugal has a long tradition as a seafaring nation, and hemp was in widespread use for centuries in rope- and sail-making (© SantiMB.Photos)

However, Portugal’s drug policy is deeply flawed, and the ongoing refusal to legislate to allow for personal cultivation of cannabis seems contradictory and regressive. Furthermore, the lack of progress on medical cannabis reforms, and the failure in 2013 of the social club proposal brought by the Left Bloc, are disheartening signs. It seems unlikely that the nation will continue to maintain its status as a trailblazer in the field of liberal drugs policy, as countries throughout the world are beginning to adopt legislation that far exceeds Portugal’s in their scope and effectiveness.

Comment Section

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mario ramusga dos santos

legalize!!!!

03/05/2016

Telmo

The same way we led the way in the ancient discoveries and ended up with a struggling economy we have led the way in decriminalization law and are now way behind countries that actually used the portuguese model as basis for their policies on legalization.
Paula Teixeira da Cruz's intervention was in fact a shame as it only achieved a bad point on drugs as it lacked any sort of basis and was a personal opinion. A member of a government cannot go to the radios give "opinions". Right after that the prime minister stated that that was not part of any plans of the government and it killed what actually could be a good chance of the debate.
One of the big problems in Portugal is the amount of conservative people that cannot listen to reason and healthy debate and no government is willing to sacrifice votes for something that all politicians know is the right way.
Fact is when the decriminalization law was approved in 2001 the government made and approved the law with little or barelly any public debate and like most of the laws in Portugal, was already in place when people realised it.
The government now in power are being very innovative and supportive of popuar politics. The Left Party, who probably had the strongest position on legalizing cannabis, is now part of the government. But I doubt is on their plans to do anything about it.
On the other hand, the UK seems to be in the good path to legalization. If both they legalise the cannabis and (especially) if they continue in the UE, there is a good chance Portugal uses the example to follow the policies. Hope so!

03/05/2016

Antonio

Infelizmente em Portugal a problemática acaba por estar transversal ao cooperativismo que combate o contrabando e trafico de drogas de consumo proibido.
No nosso país produz-se muito bom vinho, e o vinho como sabemos, se bebido em excesso, produz um efeito nocivo à sociedade através dos seus muitos usuários.
O proveito do combate ao cultivo e uso da cannabis enquanto Cultura é opressivo, repressivo , recessivo, etc.
Sabemos que os nossos antepassados lidaram com a planta, Garcia De Orta conhecia as suas propriedades.
Todo o proxenetismo inerente ao trafico e contrabando de drogas sintetizadas, vindas não sei de onde deverá ser combatido.

03/05/2016

anonymous

Não tem como legalizar a cannabis em Portugal, os políticos são mais traficantes do que os próprios

20/05/2016

Roy Hyder

My friend in Portugal says this article is not true. They are very strict about drugs of any kind.

30/09/2017

Ana

Your friend is wrong and was probably tricked like me by the authorities since they often times say smoking marijuana sends u to jail which is not true according to the law, a lot of people just don't know about the law ruled in 2001

06/11/2017

Fatima

Hmmm.

02/02/2018

Frederico Rodrigues

Everyone know that in Portugal if you smoke ca

15/02/2018

Jaime

Bueno puesss me gusta fumar mazo tu o sea wow soy el chungo del barro. KE TE RAJO I TE PETO TOLL ANO

15/03/2018

Doug

I am a Canadian and will be vacationing in Portugal in September 2018. I use medicinal CBD oil for chronic back pain. I have my doctors prescription labelled on my CBD oil bottle as well as a card that shows my perception. Can I bring this with me on my vacation.
Thanks

25/03/2018

Scarlet Palmer

Hi Doug,

I'm afraid we don't have the legal expertise to answer that question, sorry! I advise you to get in touch with the Portuguese embassy where you live and see if they can give you an answer.

With best wishes,

Scarlet

27/03/2018

Luis

Hi, I'm portuguese, living in Switzerland, where CBD is legal.
TBH, in Portugal even the authorities don't know what CBD is. It's new to them.
And there's a "hole" in the legislation, CBD is not permitted NOR forbiden, for recreational purposes.
But ealier this week they approved the law to use medical cannabis. So no problem at all if you have the prescription.
Enjoy your vacation!

01/06/2018

Tuga

Yes you can. If it hasnt THC you are fine!

12/07/2018

Tuga

What a law... They decriminalized the consumption and possession but we cant harvest a cannabis plant! Who profits with this? The black market!!!

12/07/2018

carlos

Hi, I live in Portugal now 6 years, Inframed, the state owned medical regulator of Portugal has granted a licence to Tilray of Canada to grow cannabis in a couple of factories and subsequently sell irradiated buds in pharmacies for profit. As a result of this 'pharmaceutical grab' of the cannabis plant here as in other places such as Nl. patients are not getting good quality organic and safe healthy meds. It is a money making cartel operation for the government, also at the same time as Tilray came along new fines of between 1500 and 45000 euros were introduced for medical growers without licence (cultivation) thereby blocking self grow/patients. Possesion and purchase of seeds is now illegal also, Portugal is only EU country doing this, and cultivation is met with criminal penalties, they dont want us cutting into their 'nice arrangement' with the posh factories that employ only 3 people. The Licensed grow ops of Tilray dont create jobs for the locals and do little for the poor community here that need work. If you are caught with any amount of cannabis it is always confiscated despite the alowances in law, and up to the officer to decide if you are a trafficker or not, depeding on what mood they are in, either way you will have to see a psychologist and have an evaluation, my close friend was busted with about 4g and got the whole 9 yards, short story is it is not liberal here in Portugal it is all a front to the outside world, Portugal is way behind with cannabis. Growers are very secretive, naturally but they are around and a dying race now, but since the Tilray licences and the new excessive fines the authorities are activily persuing grow ops because they know it fills the coffers, its a win win for the government that gets to clamp down and make a profit all round for the regeme. Soon as people wake up to what their Human Rights are and exercise them there will be no more stupid prohibition and recketeering of cannabis by governments, they are criminals just like they dealers they accuse they have a different job title and a fancy office in Lisbon.

27/05/2019

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Where |Portugal

Capital |Lisbon

Inhabitants |10427301

Legal Status |decriminalized

Medical Program |yes