Challenges and limitations of Portugals drug laws.

June 15, 2019

                               'Things are seldom what they seem

                                       Skim milk masquerades as cream'

Gilbert and Sullivan


                        Drug Decriminalisation in Portugal.


In July 2001, Portugal decriminalised the personal use and possession of all illicit drugs. Now, following passage of Law 30/2000, Portugal refers cases of consumption, purchase, or possession of up to a ten 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 exceeding a ten days’ supply, remain criminal offences.


A Case Study for Legalisation?

Portugal’s decriminalised 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.

 It is difficult, however, to draw any clear, reliable conclusions from the report regarding the impact of Portugal’s drug policy changes.

Limitations in Current Research

•  Supporting Analysis Not Definitive:

The Cato Institute report does not discuss the statistical significance of the data shifts it highlights, sometimes focusing on prevalence rate changes as small as 0.8 percent.2

•  Fails to Recognise Other Factors:

The report attributes favourable trends as a direct result of decriminalisation without acknowledging, for example, the decline in drug-related deaths that began prior to decriminalisation.

 ∙ Adverse Data Trends Not Reported:

Evidence that may reflect Law 30/2000’s adverse social effects – such as the increase in drug-related deaths in Portugal between 2004 and 2006 – is sometimes ignored, downplayed, or not given equal recognition. 

Core Drug‐Use Reduction Claims Not Conclusive:

As “proof” of drug legalisation’s success, the report trumpets a decline in the rate of illicit drug usage among 15- to 19- year-olds from 2001 to 2007, while ignoring increased rates in the 15-24 age group and an even greater increase in the 20-24 population over the same period. In a similar vein, ONDCP seeks to foster healthy individuals and safe communities by  effectively leading the Nation’s effort to reduce drug use and its consequences.

August 2010

The report emphasises decreases in lifetime prevalence rates for the 13-18 age group from 2001 to 2006 and for heroin use in the 16-18 age group from 1999 to 2005. But, once again, it downplays increases in the lifetime prevalence rates for the 15-24 age group between 2001 and 2006, and for the 16-18 age group between 1999 and 2005 

 • Methodologically Limited:

Cato’s analysis relies heavily on lifetime prevalence data, which can be problematic when analysing the impact of policy changes over time periods as short as the 5-6 years captured in most of the studies cited in the report.

Additional Studies Offer More Contradictory Evidence

•  Statistics compiled by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) indicate that between 2001 and 2007, lifetime prevalence rates for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, and LSD have risen for the Portuguese general population (ages 15-64) and for the 15-34 age group.6 •  Past-month prevalence figures show increases from 2001 to 2007 in cocaine and LSD use in the Portuguese general population as well as increases in cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamine use in the 15-34 age group.7

•  Drug-induced deaths, which decreased in Portugal from 369 in 1999 to 152 in 2003, climbed to 314 in 2007 – a number significantly higher than the 280 deaths recorded when decriminalisation started in 2001.

 • Despite Cato’s assertion that increases in lifetime prevalence levels among the general population are “virtually inevitable in every nation,” EMCDDA data indicate that other countries, including Spain, have been able to achieve decreases in lifetime prevalence rates for cannabis and ecstasy use between 2003 and 2008. Claims of Benefits from Drug Legalisation Exceed Supporting Science The Cato Institute report does not present sufficient evidence to support claims regarding causal effects of Portugal’s drug policy on usage rates. More data are required before drawing any firm conclusions, and ultimately these conclusions may only apply to Portugal and its unique circumstances, such as its history of disproportionately high rates of heroin use. However, it is safe to say that claims by drug legalisation advocates regarding the impact of Portugal’s drug policy exceed the existing scientific data.

Portugal decriminalised drugs. Results?

Use by teens doubled in a decade with nearly a fifth of 15 and 16-year-olds using drugs

•  Liberal Democrats held up Portugal as shining example on 'drugs war' 

But since legalisation the number of children users has more than doubled •    In 1995 8% of teenagers had tried drugs but after new law it rose to 19% •    More children under 13 have also tried cannabis since laws were relaxed.

The nation held up by the Liberal Democrats as a shining example of how to win the war on drugs is far from the unqualified success story they make out. For the number of children using drugs in Portugal has more than doubled since the country’s laws were liberalised, the latest figures show. A decade after the law was relaxed, nearly a fifth of 15 and 16-year-olds use drugs – well over twice the number in the years before decriminalisation.

The controversial Home Office report commissioned by the Liberal Democrats states: ‘It is clear that there has not been a lasting and significant increase in drug use in Portugal since 2001.’ But the evidence suggests otherwise. The most recent independent report on what is happening in Portugal shows that in 1995 eight per cent of Portuguese teenagers had tried drugs.

In 1999, when laws began to be relaxed, it was 12 per cent.

But after decriminalisation in 2001, it rose to 18 per cent in 2003 and 19 per cent in 2011.

The picture for cannabis use is similar.

In 1995, only 7 per cent of Portuguese teens had tried the drug but by 2011 the figure was 16 per cent.

The report, by the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, looked at 100,000 15 and 16-year-olds across Europe. Its most alarming finding covers children under 13 in Portugal. In 1999, 2 per cent had tried cannabis. By 2003, that had risen to 4 per cent and remained at that level in 2011. The Home Office report based its contrary findings on evidence from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EU drugs watchdog, which is based in Lisbon.

Even the watchdog’s verdict on Portugal is contradictory. It has not endorsed Portugal’s own drug abuse figures from a 2012 survey, saying the results are not yet available. But it adds that the country’s survey of children’s health ‘indicates an increase in the prevalence of cannabis use in the period 2006-10’. The EU watchdog endorses ESPAD’s verdict. ‘The most recent ESPAD study corroborates the findings, showing an increase in consumption of illicit substances since 2006,’ its report on Portugal says. ‘This trend is observed among both male and female students.’ However the Home Office report accepted, without qualification or reference to other sources, the Portuguese government’s figures produced by Portugal’s drug control agency SICAD. Legalised: A report has revealed that since drug laws were relaxed in Portugal, the number of children using drugs has more than doubled with nearly a fifth of 15 and 16-year-olds using drugs It says that among all Portuguese adults the proportion that had used cannabis in the last year was 3.3 per cent in 2001, 3.6 per cent in 2007 and 2.7 per cent in 2012. On the basis of these figures, the Home Office report said: ‘Following decriminalisation in Portugal there has not been a lasting increase in adult drug use.’

There is, however, a question over the figures. The director of SICAD is Dr Joao Goulao, an influential political figure widely hailed as the architect of decriminalisation. He is publicly proud of the ‘success’ of his policy and boasted in 2012 of frequent visits by ‘politicians, doctors, experts and journalists from around the world’. Critics say he has an interest in publishing figures to back his case. Kathy Gyngell, research fellow for the right-leaning British think tank Centre for Policy Studies, said: ‘The same man who introduced the policy is responsible for producing the figures. ‘Dr Goulao clearly has an interest in making the figures look good.’ 


The purpose of this paper is to draw together some key data that contradicts and invalidates claims by pro-drug legalisation lobbyist Ethan Nadelmann. Nadelmann referred to a paper titled ‘What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs?’ as a key piece of evidence to bolster his recommendations for the legalising/decriminalising of illicit drugs. As you will read, the paper referred to by Nadelmann not only fails to be consistent in its attempt to meet its own internal criteria, but, as we will show, fails to lend any credible weight to the argument for decriminalisation. Furthermore, other emerging evidence in this critique will incontrovertibly challenge the notion that Portugal is ‘better off’ for having decriminalised illicit drugs. Varco, F, Francke, D (2010)


The purpose of this composite document is to challenge the recent claims by pro-drug legalisation lobbyist Ethan Nadelmann about key ‘proofs’ he cited to bolster his case for the legalisation of illicit drugs as quoted in ABC 7:30 report 23/11/10. "There is evidence now coming from Portugal - a report out just this week in the British Journal of Criminology by Alex Stevens - that Portugal's policy of decriminalising possession of all drugs has not resulted in an increase in drug use, but it has resulted in a reduction in crime, reduction of HIV, Hep C and other drug related ills."

So there's powerful evidence. 

As you will read in the following evaluation of the said ‘evidence’, there is very much a different picture painted about the impact of decriminalisation. Of course the key to understanding and using evidence is to establish both the context and framework of investigations. In the key study by Hughes and Stevens you will discover that the original premise for making both conclusions and claims did shift during the course of the paper, as the following will show thus generating (to use a Nadelmann phrase) ‘Overwhelming Proof’ - that decriminalisation has failed not only drug users but the wider population of Portugal. More importantly the paper failed to genuinely confirm the hypothesis and findings that Hughes and Stevens sought to arrive at. The Critique ( Hughes & Stevens: 2009) •    However we can test the hypotheses from some politicians and academics... that decriminalisation necessarily leads to increases in drug use and related harms. According to the conclusion on page 101 •    "While small increases of drug use was reported by Portuguese adults, the regional context of this trend suggests that they were not produced solely by the 2001 decriminalisation. We would argue that they are less important than the major reductions seen in opiate-related deaths and infections as well as reductions in young people's drug use."   

Firstly the researchers say that they want to test the hypotheses...then once the evidence is not in favour they focus on something else entirely! The hypothesis stands according to the evidence! I would further argue that the regional trend in increase could have been influenced by the relaxed laws in Portugal (ripple effect) unless the trends were present before 2001. None of their graphs show pre 2001 trends so we can't comment decisively.

   I would say the evidence is more in favour of not decriminalising. As usual it's the spin-doctor approach really, nothing is conclusive, but anything and everything is being inferred to favour the particular viewpoint of the authors.

There's a lot of smoke screening and diverting of attention onto other  outcomes that cannot be conclusively proven to be a result of the Portugal strategy anyway.

   The arguments put forward on page 1006 are weak at best. This was the Holy Grail they are after  ---  to see whether drug use would increase or decrease. I'm sure if it had decreased even slightly, they would have been doing cartwheels to point out that the evidence was conclusive...but since it went up "slightly to moderately" they are scratching around to find a 'plausible' explanation as to what caused that much for the evidence based approach!

#Response for p 1006 comment: Seeing that Portugal was now a 'drug haven' with very soft drug related criminal laws everyone and his dog must've wanted to cash in.

Obviously there was a lot of cash to be made (ergo the increase in use), and if more drugs were coming into the region and being made in Portugal for local market and export (again evidenced by a 499% increase in drugs seized, captures of ecstasy alone increased by a staggering 1526% pg. 1011) of course one would expect to find regional trends increasing (why on earth would it decrease?).

As I've commented on p 1018 about conclusions, the only way to really answer this question for sure would be to conduct the reverse of this whole test as well (the following are additional comments):

•  Severely increase penalties only

•  Severely increase penalties & increase Therapeutic Responses (TR)

•  Decriminalise only with no increased TR

•  Decriminalise and increase TR (which is what they've done)

•  Other combinations and variants also possible.

•    Once tests along these lines are conducted and analysed we'll be in a much better position to claim conclusive 'evidence based' outcomes. •    Halfway through the paper their big 'Silver Bullet' is the measurement of PDU (Problematic Drug Use) and if this declines then their claim is that interventions are working? So now the goal posts have change.   .

However we can test the hypotheses from some politicians and academics... that decriminalisation necessarily leads to increases in drug use and related harms. In other words general drug use increase is not considered to be a smoking gun, it has to be Problematic (which is nowhere defined in the paper, at least not where we could find but at other sources it is predominantly described as intravenous opioid use, which does not include cannabis, alcohol, ecstasy etc.) So suddenly they are claiming that PDU (Problematic Drug Use) has indeed declined (p 1008) and this constitutes "strong evidence that the Portuguese decriminalisation has not increased the most harmful forms of drug use." Here's the problem though...on p 1006 when they start talking about PDU they are all Estimated figures (one before the last paragraph) based on the Multiplier method which is one of 3 methods that can be used, which is: •  A simple multiplier method using police, treatment, mortality or HIV/HCV data; •  Capture–recapture methods; • Extrapolation via multivariate indicator methods The numbers derived are the estimate. It is still only an estimate and there could be any number of reasons why less numbers are in those categories. Also what happens when you use the other two methods? That's not even talked about...yet the website above says: "Many of the available estimates are based on results from more than one estimation method, thereby adding to their reliability"

Basically for their estimates to be considered to be reliable they need to include more than one estimation method, which they do not! So the Silver Bullet, which is an estimate, is worded to sound like it is a communicating evidence based fact. So when they use the term 'evidence based' to bolster their argument - it's merely an evidentiary smoke screen.


Another interesting piece of information worth noting is that Spain’s user arrests begin to increase prodigiously after Portugal introduces decriminalisation (from around 8000 in 1998 to around 26000 in 2007 - 350% increase!) but its trafficking arrests remain at around the 1000 mark for the whole 9 years! Surely this must raise some serious ‘red flags’? What is disturbing is that this is touted as having little or nothing to do with the Portugal venture and outrageously dismissed as being totally unrelated because this is a ‘regional trend’. Again the selection of evidence, framing of data and bounding of debate, relegate a key juxtapose that challenges the findings to seeming irrelevance – as if any reasonable person is that stupid! Considering that these are two neighbouring countries and considering the massive 499% increase in trafficking offenders caught in Portugal, you don’t have to be erudite to Estimate that maybe, just maybe, the Spaniards are getting their ‘junk’ from over the border? ‘Nah, totally unlikely!’ he taunts sarcastically!


One very interesting reported fact (not estimated this time) is that numbers of drug related offenders (crimes committed under the influence of drugs/or to fund drug consumption) have dropped in Portuguese prisons. So if anything they have this to crow about, but they don't make a big deal of it, other than to say that there has been an overall reduction in the burden of drug related offenders in the criminal justice system. No reasons for this are put forward. Possibly because in the very next paragraph they discuss the 499% overall increase in drug seizures and obviously this would mean more people being prosecuted under a different category than 'drug related offenders'. These are now more serious crimes of trafficking, which aren't decriminalised. The other side of the coin! The following is a paper written by Drug Free America citing the evaluation carried out on the Portugal Decriminalisation experiment by the Chairman of the Association for a Drug Free Portugal.


As you will clearly see the ‘evidence’ is of a very different type and tenor.


As reported by Manuel Pinto Coelho, Chairman of APLD, Portugal Drug use was decriminalised in Portugal in the year 2000. Was it a resounding success? Not according to Manuel Coelho, Chairman of the Association for a Drug-Free Portugal and member of the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy. He reports the following: •  Portugal remains the country with the highest incidence of IDU (Injection Drug Users) related AIDS and is the only country in Europe with an increase; 703 newly diagnosed infections followed from a distance by Estonia with 191 and Latvia with 108 reported cases. •  The number of new cases of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in Portugal recorded 8 times the average found in other EU countries. •  Homicides related to drug use have increased 40%, and is the only EU country to show an increase from 2000 to 2006. •  Portugal recorded a 30% increase in drug overdose deaths, and along with Greece, Austria and Finland has one of the worst records in the EU, one every two days. • 

The number of deceased individuals that tested positive for drugs (314) in 2007 registered a 45% rise, “...climbing fiercely after 2006 (216).”

•  Behind Luxembourg, Portugal is the European country with the highest rate of consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents. (Portuguese Drug Situation Annual Report 2006)

•  Drug use increased 4.2% between 2001-2007, with lifetime use going from 7.8% to 12% (66% increase.)

Individual drug use grew as follows:- Cannabis Cocaine Heroine Ecstasy

• 12.4 to 17% (37% increase) 1.3 to 2.8% (215% increase) .7 to 1.1% (57% increase)   .7 to 1.3% (85% increase) (Report of Portuguese IDT 2008) 

While cocaine and amphetamine consumption rates have doubled, drug seizures of cocaine have increased sevenfold between 2001 and 2006, sixth highest in the world. (World Drug Report, June 2009)

According to Coelho, “The statistical results have been insidiously manipulated by institutions controlled by the government. The banner of “harm reduction” cannot be an ideology and an end in itself. It is extremely disturbing to promote the correct use of drugs safely...” He goes on to say that 70% of Portuguese addicts are in treatment programs that simply substitute one drug for another, and subject countless addicts to a life of dependency.



So how should we conclude this brief, but important foray into the ever increasingly cloudy world of ‘evidence based’ data? Should we launch into vitriolic declarations such as those that come from misguided people who believe they have a ‘better way’, such as with Mr. Nadelmann? As we have seen, when the dust settles, when the noisy and chaotic maelstrom of lobbyist ‘spin’ has subsided, we are back to a culture destroying problem that will not get better when we make it easier and simpler to access illicit drugs.

If we are not positioning our cultures to unequivocally declare that illicit drugs are a scourge and should never be granted any status other than illegal, we will only push our emerging generation and the culture they will create, further down the every slippery slope of dysfunction. This outcome can never, must never be the result of, or aided by, those who have been given responsibility to govern our communities. All governments should be about the protection of that which brings function and well being to the community and never about the protection or worse, promotion of that which wreaks a destructive toll on its people, individually or collectively. Decriminalisation is at best an idea, it is not a solution.


Portugal’s Drug Use after decriminalisation an inventory of Facts



The number of new cases of HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis C in Portugal recorded among drug users is eight (8) times the average found in other member states of the European Union. "Portugal keeps on being the country with the most cases of injected drug related AIDS (85 new cases per one million of citizens in 2005, while the majority of other EU countries do not exceed 5 cases per million) and the only one registering a recent increase. 36 more cases per one million of citizens were estimated in 2005 comparatively to 2004, when only 30 were referred." (EMCDDA - November 2007)



Since the implementation of decriminalisation in Portugal, the number of homicides related to drug use has increased 40%. "Portugal was the only European country to show a significant increase in homicides between 2001 and 2006." (WDR - World Drug Report, 2009)


FACT # 3

"With 219 deaths by drug 'overdose' a year, Portugal has one of the worst records, reporting more than one death every two days.  Along with Greece, Austria and Finland, Portugal is one of the countries that recorded an increase in drug overdose by over 30% in 2005". (EMCDDA November 2007)


FACT # 4

The number of individuals that tested positive for drugs (314) at the Portuguese Institute of Forensic Medicine in 2007 registering a 45% rise from 2006 (216). This represents the highest number since 2001 - averaging almost one death per day. This reinforces a growth of the drug trend since 2005. (Portuguese IDT - November 2008)


FACT # 5

"Portugal has the second highest rate of consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents". (Portuguese Drug Situation Annual Report, 2006)


Between 2001 and 2007, drug use increased 4.2%, while the percentage of people who have used drugs (at least once) in life, increased from 7.8% to 12%. The following statistics are reported: Cannabis: from 12.4% to 17% Cocaine: from 1.3% to 2.8% Heroin: from 0.7% to 1.1% 7 Ecstasy: from 0.7% to 1.3%. (Report of Portuguese IDT 2008)
"The increase in consumption of cocaine (in Portugal) is extremely problematic." (Wolfgang Gotz, EMCDDA Director - Lisbon, May 2009) "While amphetamines and cocaine consumption rates have doubled in Portugal, cocaine drug seizures have increased sevenfold between 2001and 2006, the sixth highest in the world". (WDR - World Drug Report, June 2009)

FACT # 7

70% of Portuguese addicted to drugs are not in drug-free programs but in rather programs in ‘treatment’ aligned to substitution therapies.

The figures related to the prevalence in the Portuguese population show that the percentage of people who have tried illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime increased from 7,8% (800 000 people) in 2001 to 12% (1,3 million) in 2007 (Portuguese ex- IDT Activities Report November 2008). “The highest mortality rates caused by HIV / AIDS among drug users were reported by Portugal, followed by Estonia, Spain, Latvia and Italy. In most other countries the rates are low"  (EMCDDA, Annual Report 2010). In Portugal, since decriminalisation was approved in July 2001, the number of drug related homicides has increased by 40%. “It was the only European country with a significant increase between 2001 and 2006” (World Drug Report, June 2009).


“Young people need models that may help them to find a positive way – a way without drugs. The eradication of drug abuse from our Planet is a giant task, but with the human organisations joint effort from all levels and the struggle of all, we can move forward to that direction” (Kofi Annan – International Day Against the Abusing and Illicit Traffic on Drugs. June 26, 1998).

As matter of fact, it is much cheaper and easier to provide methadone to a heroin dependent, than to assist him with a larger and more expensive multi-disciplinary structure of diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration, aiming to a full and drug-free recovery.

Considering the financial crisis, governmental economists must be pleased with this. And we can’t forget that the pharmaceutical industry will like it too. Strong economical groups can be very influential, both on governments and on public opinion. Who must be more benefited? The politicians, the directors, or the drug dependents?

The real question is: how can we interpret a TREATMENT?

Can the perpetuity of a so-called chemical dependency be considered a treatment?

Can we interpret the massive 70% majority of dependents in substitution programs in Europe as an indicator of success or are they just a deluding form of a certain social control?

Can drug dependents long for a life free of drugs? And can the drug-free treatments fulfil this expectation?

Deep underneath all these questions lies a fundamental one: is the drug dependent a condemned victim of his own biology or can he work himself around that issue through the process of discovering himself and his willingness to get out of it?

In other words, is drug dependence an incurable disease or is it a cognitive-behavioural entanglement, a way to cope with life? This is the fundamental question and the answer to it should indicate the choice of the treatment options available and the policy to be drawn.

Each and every policy that undermines human rights, each and every policy that supports, encourages and promotes the use of drugs, endangers essential values (such as health and safety) and violates constitutional rights.

Each and every policy that allows a significant part of the population to remain chemically enslaved, psychologically and financially, by narcotic drugs, is inhumane and can’t be accepted.

Pay attention to the example of Portugal:

Since decriminalisation occurred ten years ago, everyone can possess any kind of drugs for a period of consumption of 10 days. Let’s make it clear; some people don’t understand, or just don’t care, that drugs destroys their health, aggravates social and emotional misery and undermines human rights.

On April the 25th, 1974 the Portuguese “Cloves Revolution” rebelled armed forces, tanks and troopers, had invaded peacefully the streets in Lisbon in order to free the people of the dictatorship of Salazar and provide democracy and individual freedom. Thirty seven years later on December the 7th, 2011 another peaceful revolution took place on Portuguese soil, aiming like the prior to provide individual freedom to a significant fringe of our society – the drug dependents.  As matter of fact in this date, the Portuguese Council of Ministers officially noticed the extinction of a Portuguese Drug Institute (IDT) that decided, with the aid of an exhausted public treasury and carried on shoulders by an intriguing media, to give priority to a perverse medicalisation (with another opioids) of drug dependence, inviting unconsciously some Portuguese youth to a “responsible use” of narcotics instead teaching them to restore through evidence-based psychosocial intervention strategies, their lost responsibility, autonomy and dignity, in drug free programs and ambiances.

Even knowing that nobody can overnight change so complex situation, there is now the hope that the creation of SICAD – Intervention Service on Additive Behaviours and Dependencies, may allow more effectively “the planning and following up of programs to reduce the consumption of psychoactive substances, prevention of addictive behaviours and diminishing of dependencies in a new service born in Health Ministry direct administration” (Statement from the Council of Ministers of December 7, 2011).

It seems that giving priority to consumption reduction instead harm reduction, the magnificent Portuguese Health Minister Paulo Macedo (ex-responsible by treasure and finances dossiers) is now trying to understand how it was possible the existence of so many holes of so many millions of euros, opening the eyes finally to some personal and/or corporate interests some years ago installed with so disastrous health and economic results.

The “resounding success” of decriminalisation of use, possession and acquisition for use of drugs in Portugal, a seriously distorted projection of reality only possible due a complete and absurd campaign of manipulation of Portuguese drug policy facts and figures, was promptly noticed but never sufficiently reported by several analysts including Obama Administration – “ we are opposed to the decriminalisation of drugs on grounds of both public health and public safety and we do not think that Portugal´ s approach is right for the United States. … The claims that decriminalisation has reduced drug use and had no detrimental impact in Portugal significantly exceed the existing scientific basis. …  …His conclusion largely contradicts prevailing media coverage and several policy analyses…” and very recently confirmed by de ex-IDT´ s Clinical Director Graça Vilar: “We notice the cases of new consumers of illicit drugs are significant“ (“Expresso” Dec. 3, 2011) was invented by Glenn Greenwald a writer-lawyer fluent in Portuguese invited by the “libertarian” think-tank Cato Institute of Washington.

Fuelled by a so extraordinary as intriguing marketing machine, this sadly famous American citizen, even with the total absence of any scientific proof, allowed himself, shamefully, to spread the message that decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal was the right tool to reduce drug dependency and drug miseries around the world. And the message passed… not only abroad but also in my own country: -  “I am lucky to live in a society that has accepted the fact that drugs and addiction are part of life” confessed Nuno Miranda a heroin dependent thirteen years ago parking cars in Lisbon in a misleading article, one among hundreds around the world, with totally false judgements adulterating drug related Portuguese reality at the Oct.17, 2011 edition of the American revue “The New Yorker”. Decriminalisation?

Considering the new law, since July 2001, the drug dependent as a patient who needs medical treatment and not a criminal even if he commits a crime, the situation in Portugal had worsen. The sharp rise - 40% the most relevant in Europe (World Drug Report 2009) – of drug related homicides, along with the mounting rise in each and every drug prevalence, HIV – top in Europe (EMCDDA 2010) - and drug related deaths – 45% between 2006 and 2007 the more elevated since 2001 (IDT 2008) - tough us that drug policies that facilitate, accomplices and socialise with free drug use are the worst step to reduce drug slavery.  

To legalise crime committed by drug dependents (or by “patients”) doesn’t seem the most effective way to fight it. To facilitate access to drugs, as one can see, will never be the way to reduce the use or  decrease  drug dependences and related crime. It is indeed curious that until these days in Portugal drug dependents, with the Government’s tacit support, invoke their condition of “patients” not to be punished for their crimes, but then forget they have a “disease of the will” and assume themselves as free and responsible people, that decide, willingly, if they want to be treated or not! Considering, by decriminalisation, the drug dependent as a patient and not as a delinquent State cannot then choose, through a policy which gave priority during the last years to “harm reduction”, to feed the “disease” instead of healing it. Let us hope that December 7th, 2011 can be a landmark to the world and the new Portuguese Government may find the inspiration to go on giving the right steps and proceed to the necessary changes. Families all over the world with drugs induced dramas inside their walls will be very grateful indeed.




Coehlo, M. (. (2010). The Fall of the Mask: World Drug Report . Dalgarno Institute, Govt, Lisbon.


Coehlo, M. (2010, February 2). Decriminalisation from Drugs in Portugal - The real facts. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from World Federation against Drugs: www.wfad.


Doughty, S. (2014, October 31). Portugal Decriminalised Drugs; Use of teens doubled. Daily Mail . Sydney, NSW, Australia: Associated Newspapers.


European Monitoring Centre for Drug Addiction. (2009, July 15). Figures from GPS-1 Last year prevalence amongst all adults ( 15-64 ) Table 1.2, 5 and 6. (L. Company, Producer) Retrieved January 12, 2017, from European Monitoring Centre for Drug Addiction:


Varcoe, S., & Francke, D. (2010, November). Evidence Based Data and the Failed Portuguese Experiment. - A Critique. Retrieved February 1, 2017, from Dalgarno Institute:


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