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Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Challenges and Limitations

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2010
2 pages
This fact sheet reviews research that has examined the impact of drug decriminalization in Portugal.
In July 2001, Portugal decriminalized the personal use and possession of all illicit drugs. Following passage of Law 30/2000, Portugal refers cases of consumption, purchase, or possession of up to a 10 days' supply of an illicit drug to an administrative panel, which makes recommendations for treatment, fines, warnings, or other penalties. Trafficking and cultivation of illicit substances, as well as possession of quantities that exceed a 10 days' supply, remain criminal offenses. Although Portugal's decriminalized drug policy has been cited as proof that softening drug laws does not increase illicit drug use or the consequences of drug use, this contention is based primarily on the findings published in a 2009 Cato Institute report. This report, however does not discuss the statistical significance of the data shifts that it highlights, sometimes focusing on prevalence-rate changes as small as 0.8 percent. In addition, the report attributes favorable trends to drug decriminalization without acknowledging the influence of other factors, such as the decline in drug-related deaths that preceded decriminalization. Also, evidence of possible adverse effects of drug decriminalization are sometimes ignored, de-emphasized, or not given equal weight with other findings. One such finding is the increase in drug-related deaths in Portugal between 2004 and 2006. Other limitations in the methodology and interpretation of data are also noted for the Cato Institute's study. Additional studies of the impact of Portugal's drug decriminalization have yielded evidence that is more contradictory than the Cato study; for example, statistics compiled by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction indicate that between 2001 and 2007, lifetime prevalence rates for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, and LSD have increased for the Portuguese general population (ages 15-64) and for the 15-34 age group. 9 notes