Cannabis is illegal in Portugal. However, in 2001, it decriminalized cannabis and all drugs, making it the first country to do so. This is the reason why, when we talk about global drug policy and cannabis legislation, Portugal almost always gets special mention.
Portugal overhauled its drug policy to make way for a system that is based on treatment instead of one that is focused on punitive penalties.
What does it mean to be illegal but decriminalized?
According to Portugal’s drug law prior to 2001, the use of cannabis and other drugs is a criminal offense and those caught in possession of these prohibited substances are subjected to a fine and up to three months imprisonment. The penalty increased to a maximum of one year in jail if the drugs seized exceed three days’ worth of supply for the user.
However, the Portuguese government introduced its new policy in 2001 that decriminalized personal use and possession of cannabis and other drugs as long as they are in small quantities. This means quantities not exceeding 10 days’ worth of drug supply for any average individual. In the case of cannabis, the daily personal requirement as codified in Portuguese law is 2.5g.
Those who are caught with small amounts of cannabis or other drugs will not face criminal penalties. Instead, the substance will be seized and the case will be forwarded to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, which is the local body in charge of implementing a drug diversion program or rehabilitation strategy. Legal proceedings for a majority of such cases end up being suspended, with only a small percentage facing monetary penalties. Moreover, if the offender is given a treatment order, he or she may opt not to go through it and he or she won’t incur any penalty.
What about the sale of cannabis?
Under Portuguese law, there are different types of drug trafficking, depending on different substances, the quantity of the drug in question, and the offender’s state of addiction. For cannabis, which is categorized as a list I substance, trafficking could mean a custodial sentence of 4 to 12 years.
However, if the offender is found to be addicted to cannabis himself and is selling so as to supply his or her own need, he or she will face a reduced penalty of a maximum of 3 years in jail.
Penalties will also be significantly reduced if the offender is found to be selling cannabis of smaller quantities and without aggravating circumstances. A maximum of 1 to 5 years jail time is given to such cases.
Meanwhile, offenders who sell cannabis with aggravating circumstances, such as involvement in a criminal organization, will face custodial sentences of 10 to 20 years.
Cultivation of cannabis plants
In Portugal, cultivating cannabis is illegal and the risk of prosecution for those who grow cannabis plants – even only a few for personal use – is high.
In fact, a proposal presented to parliament that aims to decriminalize the cultivation of cannabis in small amounts for personal use by social clubs or by individuals has been rejected.
Is medical cannabis legal?
Portugal currently has no specific law regarding medical cannabis. However, Sativex – which is a spray containing a formulated extract of cannabis sativa that carries THC and CBD – can be obtained legally.
Moreover, in 2014, the National Drug Authority issued Terra Verde a license to produce cannabis for medical purposes. According to the National Drug Authority’s statements, the crop permitted to be grown in the country will contain THC levels of not more than 2%.
And just recently, the Portuguese government granted Canada-based company Tilray, which is one of the world’s largest producers of high-quality medical cannabis, licenses to import cannabis seeds and cultivate medical cannabis in the country.