What happened When Portugal Decriminalised Drugs?

This is the story of how one country – Portugal sparked a global movement for change when they decriminalised drugs in 2001.


In 2001 a growing number of the Portuguese population had an addiction problem, proving that the ‘war on drugs’ model was making things worse for their citizens. They realised that cutting off the drug supply to people was not the answer to their addiction problems but rather education and medical support was.

The country needed to forge a radical new approach to drug policies and decided that simple possession of a small amount of drugs was not enough to warrant a jail sentence. It would no longer be a criminal offence for casual users to enjoy their vice. State resources could be focused on better policing by not having to arrest mere users of drugs, while instead of being punished for their dependency addicts would be offered help.

This video by The Economist also takes a look at other drug policy models from other countries from  around the world, including Columbia and in the U.S where states like Colorado have fully legalised recreational use of cannabis.

In 2014 Colorado became the first US state to fully legalize cannabis and in December 2013 a couple of leaders in Colorado came out to give warnings that reefer madness was about to ensue. The leaders claimed that kids using cannabis would grow in great numbers, shortly after legalization they had to retract what their statements. Research showed that cannabis use by teenagers actually fell after the practise was taxed and regulated.

Colorado’s experience has helped to trigger a wave of change across the United States, since almost half american states have now taken some steps to legalize and regulate cannabis. Looking at Portugal and Colorado proves that global drug policy affects us all so is a very legitimate issue and one of the most important of our time.

Recently a delegation selected by the Irish government were sent to Portugal to study the outcome of decriminalization, Here’s an excerpt from their published findings:

Outcome in Portugal

The approach in relation to drugs has not resulted in an increase in drug taking nor has it resulted in Portugal becoming a destination for drug tourists.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases has dropped dramatically.

The delegation was told that –

Fifteen years ago what was most feared was that this approach would cause:

  • a) drug consumption to increase;
  • b) the authorities to be more tolerant towards drug trafficking, allowing it to also increase;
  • c) Portugal to become the destiny for drug consumers from all over Europe, but especially from Spain;
  • d) the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction to rise.

Fifteen years have passed and:

  • a) drug consumption has not increased;
  • b) the authorities kept at least the same level of intolerance towards drug trafficking, both internal and international;
  • c) Portugal did not become a destiny for drug consumers;
  • d) the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction has decreased.

At the same time:

  • a) drug consumers are no longer looked upon or treated as criminals, not only by the authorities, but also by society (including their own families);
  • b) they became less dependent on traffickers and police discretion, being especially true when it comes to people with less resources;
  • c) the end of thousands of criminal cases for drug consumption, that cost time and money with absolutely no gain;
  • d) by being easier to know who is buying drugs, it is easier to know who is selling them.