Drug Freedom Works in Portugal

Posted: April 6th, 2009 | Filed under: drugs, legalization, marijuana | 34 Comments »

Portugal Decriminalization

On Friday I attended Glenn Greenwald‘s presentation of his report, “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal,” at the Cato Institute. Greenwald studied how Portugal’s policy of decriminalizing the personal possession of all drugs in 2001 has fared. Portugal’s policy has been a “resounding success.”

Decriminalization is dismissed out of hand by those that consider drugs a moral issue, but prohibitionists that stoop to debate argue decriminalization will bring a “parade of horrors.” Some of these are that usage and addiction rates will explode, more children will do drugs, and decriminalized areas will become drug tourist havens that will spread addiction throughout the world.

None of these things have occurred in Portugal. Instead a massive amount of financial resources have been freed up to provide treatment to those that want it. In addition, more of the population has been willing to take advantage of government-supplied treatment now that there is no fear of criminal ramifications.

These results are unsurprising to those that understand how exaggerated the evils are surrounding “hard” drugs. On average, criminalization prevents responsible and conscientious people from using drugs – the exact population that can handle the freedom sensibly.

Note: Greenwald pointed out that the Portuguese commission had considered legalization but believed it could not legalize without violating international treaty obligations. (These treaties are enforced by zealous drug-war states like the United States.) He added that small countries like Portugal actually have to follow international treaties.


1. Glenn Greenwald, “Drug Decriminalization in Portugal,” (2009). LINK

34 Comments on “Drug Freedom Works in Portugal”

  1. 1 Theophilus said at 6:47 pm on May 14th, 2009:

    I would point out that commitment to prohibition of drugs is also set out in the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, to which 170 countries are signatories. It is not simply the case that large global powers force drug treaties upon smaller nations.

    This treaty is one into which UN members voluntarily enter, and are free to withdraw from at any point. There would obviously be political and diplomatic consequences to doing so.

    I would also note that, in 2003, the European Parliament formed a committee that recommended the repeal of the Convention, as it was held to be counter-productive in efforts to reduce drug abuse.

    The full text of Glenn Greenwald’s paper is available on the CATO Institute website:



  2. 2 d. alan jaxon said at 2:54 pm on May 16th, 2009:

    How exactly does the existance of United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances prove that drug treaties are signed without the presence of political pressure?

    Theophilus seems to suggest that the UN somehow levels the playing field between the superpowers and the rest of the world, giving smaller countries such as Portugal the same power to exert its will that the superpowers have. One does not have to be an expert in international affairs to know that is simply not the case. It is just as easy, perhaps even easier, for America to enforce its “zealous” prohibition policies within the framework of the UN as it would be outside it (Although, as the 2003 invasion of Iraq clearly illustrates, it is comfortable working outside UN confines as well…).

    Unlike some countries, Portugal does not have the power to ignore UN resolutions to serve its own needs. While it may seem odd to those in the US, some people actually do have to take the opinions of other countries into consideration when making policy.

    Why else would a country sign an international prohibition treaty, just to turn around and pass a decriminalization law within their own borders?

  3. 3 Legalization of Marijuana - Social Issues at PureTalkForum.com said at 1:06 am on June 6th, 2009:

    […] Legalization of Marijuana Drug Freedom Works in Portugal : Narco Polo […]

  4. 4 laurel said at 3:13 am on June 12th, 2009:

    At the beginning of our legal system it was ordained that at least 1 acre be required Just for hemp as it was used in …, rope making like cotten once mashed it gould be divided into fibers for jeans ,sails,pounded into a flour for food, seed toasted were like popcorn, Jeez even george washington grew it! If only our Government could see the potintial of it ass a renewable reasourse, we would finally be able to get out there into national shareware

  5. 5 Uncle B said at 8:28 am on June 14th, 2009:

    An absolute world wide ban on tobacco products with a death penalty for simple possession will prevent cancer deaths. Similarly stringent penalties for all intoxicants, once invoked would increase productivity in the work-place and give us a better chance against Asia’s super-productive rice-burners. Outlawing the ingestion of beef can reverse global warming. Banning motorcars for the common man, and switching to rail transportation for freight and passengers in lieu of flying and diesel trucks of all sorts can increase the GDP by the amount of money now spent on foreign oil. The building, by law, of totally sustainable, reasonable sized survival shelters, complete with greenhouses, chicken coops, aquaculture, bio-gas, composting and super insulation can resolve the housing fiasco for the common folk. Building the wind farms necessary for powering the country, along with the solar farms to assist, and relegating folks to limited amounts of power per capita can resolve the energy situation. Shooting to death,then harvesting the body parts of death row prisoners, and the Wall Street Banksters, shylocks, swindlers,and crooks will prevent more mayhem.
    The six-shooter justice policies and hemp-stretching process from the old West have been sorely misrepresented in the movies! Idealism and Altruism are based on emotion and take on mythical proportions very quickly ending in foolhardy acts that do not meet their original intent. Legalizing a lot of things might entertain us for a short while, until we find the historical reasons behind having the laws invoked in the first place! Howcum we can no longer buy heroin for headache relief? Why can’t coca cola have cocaine in it as it once did? Who stopped putting opium in cough syrups, and why? Is it really necessary to have age limits for alcohol consumption? Where did that idea come from? There must have been a problem these laws remedied, or they would never have been invoked, and we must seek out and examine before rash changes. Society is built one law at a time, one convention upon another, and radical changes may have disastrous results in completely unexpected areas of the whole fabric! Tread lightly, Don’t change what isn’t broken, and remember the U.S.S.R. – a complete society, gone! What in Hell happened to them? Can it happen to us? Fear This!

  6. 6 Global Thinker said at 2:15 pm on June 14th, 2009:

    I don’t know why people take drugs or why it’s an issue. I do know that there are usually good reasons for laws and regulations and I also know that people all too often abuse and misuse freedoms, which they are allowed. As I see it there are so many things in our world that are used wrong as it is. Why add legalized drugs? The more dangerous things are, the more education we need about them. Why do we need such a headache?

  7. 7 portugal said at 3:45 pm on June 14th, 2009:


  8. 8 Larry said at 5:05 pm on June 14th, 2009:

    I’m not for legalizing or decriminalizing drugs such as meth, heroin cocaine crack and the host of other illegal and legal drugs that are abused. However I draw the line on marijuana, a substance classed a schedule 1 drug along with the others I mentioned. Fortunately, Barney Frank is moving to change the ranking to schedule 2 drugs for marijuana, and with all of the proved medical benefits it offers, plus the tax revenue for the government from legal growers would be enormous.

    Let us just be sensible when it comes to marijuana and we’ll have more time to deal with the more dangerous drugs as a side benefit.

    There are hundreds of thousands of people in jail in America for simple marijuana possession of small amounts for personal use, and we pay to incarcerate those people while we are destroying their lives in the process.

    A great many of those people led productive lives, had good careers paid taxes and had no prior criminal records. Time to change some things.

  9. 9 Krimson King said at 12:21 pm on June 17th, 2009:

    I agree with Larry above on not having complete drug legalization, and also that marijuana itself should be completely legalized. It’s ridiculous that a person caught growing marijuana in their home be sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, but a man who shot his wife in the face with a shotgun only gets 7 years because it was “attempted manslaughter”; meaning that he gets less time in prison because he didn’t succeed in murdering her.(http://www.wowowow.com/relationships/connie-culp-face-transplant-patient-thomas-culp-maria-siemionow-video-pictures-287401) If you legalize marijuana the main funding for local police all they way up to the DEA and ATF gets cut away so of course they don’t want it legalized.(Even though it’s never been easier to get.) The jails don’t want it legalized because more and more USA prisons are becoming privatized (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_prisons), meaning the more inmates they have, the more money/tax breaks they get, and marijuana is their biggest “recruitment possibility”. And people wonder why we have so many inmates. Why rehabilitate people when you can just keep making money off of them them every year? Seeing as the Iraq War is a strong topic here as well I see reason to mention that a strong investor and money maker off of these privatized prisons is our ex-Vice president
    Dick Cheney.Also, for those who didn’t know, he was indicted last year over abuse in a prison he helped fund. http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/World-News/Dick-Cheney-Indicted-Over-Prison-Abuse-Claims-US-Vice-President-Owns-Jail-Related-Enterprises/Article/200811315154864

    Anyway…I should stop rambling; have a good day all!

  10. 10 rob said at 2:18 pm on June 18th, 2009:

    If you look back at the way they became illegal, I am sure you would find that the reasons were ridiculous.

    It had to do with keeping the races separate. Opium was the Chinaman, Marijuana was the Mexicans and so on. Read up on the history.

    So don’t be spouting that there are good reasons for our laws. I don’t believe the government can tell me what to put in my body. I believe it is a right afforded to me in the Consitution. It is the prohibition of the drugs that causes the problems, not the drugs themselves. And to be quite honest, a drug is a drug. Marijuana and alcohol would make me more high than my personal drug of choice which is one of the harder ones.

    As if there are no bad laws. C’mon.

  11. 11 Andr said at 7:34 am on July 2nd, 2009:

    Vai mas ? trabalhar p?!!!

  12. 12 Andr said at 7:34 am on July 2nd, 2009:

    .. Como as pessoas!!

  13. 13 Romaray said at 3:14 pm on July 3rd, 2009:

    Ask a trauma doc or ER doc what the common denominator is for many of the injuries and deaths seen by them in their work and the answer will be alcohol. Do we need to add another drug that has many more deleterious effects than benefits for widespread open social use? I don’t think so.

  14. 14 Tom said at 9:29 am on July 7th, 2009:

    So Romaray, are you suggesting that illicit drugs are not easily obtainable? Are you suggesting that use is not already widespread? Prohibition only serves the black market and the law enforcment counterparts that benefit from this paradigm. Drugs are unregulated, untaxed, dirty, readily available, carry long sentences that do not act as deterrents, nor do they offer rehabilitation. Your point of view is extremely superficial and myopic.

  15. 15 Fccfu said at 1:22 am on July 10th, 2009:

    We don’t have to worry about narcotics such as marijuana ever being legalized in the USA any time soon. This is because large corporations such as pharmaceutical, prison industrial complexes, textile, agricultural companies make billions of dollars a year off the fact narcotics are illegal. These corporations lobby/bribe/control the politicians who in turn create biased/corrupt legislature. Drugs like marijuana are tolerated in America in many states and can be purchased at local dispensaries but whenever the government wants they can shut them down federally and or raid/extort money i.e. “taxes”. Why legalize drugs when drugs are the perfect means to incarcerate minorities in privatized prisons. America incarcerates more people than any other country (many on non violent 3 strike drug offenses) making prisons big business. Pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars a year treating diseases that are treatable by marijuana. Why legalize marijuana and add more competition? Textile companies like Dupont also profit from cannabis being illegal. Can you imagine if hemp came in to the textile market on a huge scale? The irony is that the same people fighting the war on drugs are the same ones supporting it. It is a paradox that will not be solved any time soon. More people die of prescription drugs a year than all narcotic deaths combined. Tobacco is legal but treats no disease and fuels the pharmaceutical profits with anti-smoking drugs ie the patch, Nicorette gum and Chantix. Alcohol poses no threat to big corporations and is tolerated but cannabis is a huge threat due to its versatility and many everyday applications (hemp oil, paper, rope, medicine etc). To sum this up, drugs, especially cannabis, will not be legalized due to the huge loss of profits for big business. Its perfect the way it is especially from the federal governments point of view. They tolerate it but if need be they can seize all your assets and incarcerate you. Long live bureaucracy, long live Capitalism!!!

  16. 16 steve said at 6:15 pm on July 27th, 2009:

    First, the war on drugs was started by Robert Anslinger after he lost the battle to keep alcohol prohibition. (See: The History Channel) Second, The USA is the country that sponsored the original “United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances” treaty. Thank Robert for that one too. Third, it is well known in many other countries that the CIA has been trafficking in Narcotics since the 60’s if not earlier.(See: Oliver North, Air America and consider that it’s been theorized, but never proven, that the CIA uses these funds to support operations to avoid having them scrutinized by congress) And last but certainly not least, if you look into all the countries that have decriminalized marijuana, you’ll find that the overall crime rate has dropped AND more people decide to get treatment for addiction. It’s all about the money people, always has been, always will be. See where campaign funds come from for each Rep. and you can determine what their stance will be on almost every issue!!

  17. 17 i heart freedom said at 3:26 am on August 9th, 2009:

    To global thinker: if one is truly free the freedoms cant be abused because one is free to choose one’s own path, which takes a sense of personal responsibility; therefore, these “freedoms” that you are “allowed” are not freedoms, but privileges set forth by an institution. An institution that made these laws when i wasnt even allowed to vote. Saying that all laws are made for a reason is like giving divine authority to an institution, our government, which you have to remember is run by HUMANS. humans with their own private agendas. always question authority, especially the ones who (and this is a proven fact) use fear to manipulate and control what you think. read the constitution, know your rights, know what our founding fathers thought about religion and state, about what we as humans should have as natural-born rights. be an objective observer rather than a member of the moral majority and then speak up for what you see going on.

  18. 18 Rodrigo said at 9:39 am on September 2nd, 2009:

    I do not know where you and the Americans live. you talk about statistics without knowing the real situation in the field.
    Yes, it is true that Portugal has decriminalized drug use, BUT not quite. there is still a lot of things bad. So it is not for use as a flag that question without really knowing how it really is!
    one good thing about this law is that if a person is caught with one or two grams of drug , he is not subject to criminal prosecution, but is bound to other situations, such as present in front of a psychologist, etc. I think it is more than five grams of possession which a person is accused in criminal tremor.
    But in the streets police still does the same shit has before this law!
    Still a lot of years to come for people to freely use drugs lawfully. But it’s always good to discuss these situations but always try to see how is for real. A person like me, Portuguese and smoker sees a drawing like this, it is only to make me laugh!
    This makes remenber Hugo Chaves, president of Venezuela, that all so said that in Portugal the President all so could do more than 2 terms in the office just to convince the people and that is just another lie!

  19. 19 Unsophisticated Answer said at 11:57 pm on October 19th, 2009:

    Cripes. These comments are all so lengthy. May I just say, “Pass the bong while I read all this?”

  20. 20 Andy said at 3:25 pm on November 3rd, 2009:

    Uncle B, you brought a tear in my eye.

  21. 21 able1 said at 8:36 am on February 28th, 2010:

    Romaray is spouting an ONDCP Drug Czar line when he says, “do we need another drug (cannabis)?” This implies that cannabis isn’t already a ubiquitous substance whose very popularity was brought to us by prohibition turning pot into a ‘forbidden fruit’. Prohibitionists know that it’s human nature to want what we’re told we can’t have. Prohibitionists knew that by employing this simple trick of reverse psychology they would turn recreational cannabis use into a problem they would be given jobs to fight the use of. prohibition itself has created far more problems for American society than cannabis use has. Let’s turn the question of, “do we need marijuana?” around. Do we need the prohibitionists becoming so powerful that they bypass the US Congress (our lawmakers) & make their own drug laws from within the Administrative Branch? This means prohibitionists are so powerful that they impose their gateway policy upon the masses via dictatorship. Once again we see how the prohibitionists can turn a plant that’s safer than the legal recreational drugs (alcohol & tobacco) into a justification to trample rights & steal private property that was not gained from trafficking pot. Yes, we need prohibition horrors that are far worse than cannabis use itself. How hard would you fight to keep your well paid job & benefits? Even if you knew your job was to oppress people, trample their rights & steal their property for the flimsiest of reasons? Gotta love those who like the fascist Gestapo Agents of Nazi Germany defend their actions with “I was just doing my job”. Look hard enough & you’ll find people willing to use propaganda justify any kind of oppression. Let’s get this straight, prohibition makes it easier for minors to get cannabis, not harder. So, stop copping our with lines like, “we have to protect the children (with prohibition)”. Thankfully, we have LEAP.cc members who were the worlds leading drug warriors to prove to us that pot prohibition only makes matters worse for our nation.

  22. 22 Mason said at 5:30 pm on May 24th, 2010:

    If there is anything in this country that should be abolished it’s the pharmaceutical companies. They are responsible for more addicts than cocaine, heroin,hallucinogens, ecstasy, and inhalants combined. The annual number is about 7 million.


    The actual medicinal effect of weed lasts for 2-4 hours. The “high” effect reaches it’s peak at about 15 minutes, and coasts down from there. The high from Oxycodone, when taken with the time-release capsule removed lasts around 5 hours.

  23. 23 Sportinguista said at 4:27 pm on May 25th, 2010:


  24. 24 Portuguese Stumbler said at 1:34 pm on May 28th, 2010:

    It’s not so simple. Just the possession of a small amount of “light” drugs like marijuana is not criminalized. If you have in your possession more than the legal small amount you’re considered a dealer and that’s a crime.

  25. 25 Anonymous said at 5:29 am on May 31st, 2010:

    Drug Freedom Works in Portugal : Narco Polo…

  26. 26 stupidTeaHeads said at 5:44 pm on July 10th, 2010:

    I came across this page while researching Portuguese drug decriminalization. So far I could not find anything wrong with the point of view presented on any of the pages I have come across on on the issues. I had expected to see some ignorant conservative a-holes talking down on Portugal, however I suppose they don’t stick their heads in the fire when they know they’re all out of water.
    However, I am extremely disappointed to see a bunch of pot heads talking down on the real drugs out there, while at the same time pushing their dirty weed down the country’s throats. Seriously, either you take the prohibitionist stance or you take the abolitionist stance. Don’t you understand that the powers that be will never separate your precious tea from the other Schedule I’s? And please, don’t give me that crap about “marijuana is natural, heroin is evil.” Heroin is morphine with two fatty acids, a process simple to x degree; extracting morphine from from opium is easier yet; and what is opium? It’s the plant resin of the papaver somniferum – opium poppy in the vernacular. Same goes for the coca plant. One can even add LSD to the list – as it is synthesized from LSA, which comes from the moss ergot or the morning glory seeds (in much lower concentration). However, I think the world would be better without acid, and yes, I have taken it – over a thousand times. Hell, even MDMA comes from saffrole – sasafras root.
    Of course, I too can enjoy a stick of good headies, but only once I got some good ole’ H in my blood – or at least a few beers and some methadone or morphine.
    And before you start your usual teahead tirades about the worth to society, just let me tell you that yes, I am a heroin addict, coke head, etc. with an eight year status. When I take my drugs I prefer a syringe to a glass bong – even if I take LSD or MDMA (The reason people IV drugs (heroin, cocaine, MDMA, etc.) is the same reason doctors use syringes to administer an IV injection – it is the cleanest, safest, most efficient way to introduce a substance to the body.) However,my extracurricular activities did not keep me from graduating college and going on to work on my MBA. I am fluent in three languages – English, Spanish and Russian, and am currently conducting a survey of Russian literature from 1980 to the present day, to examine its influence upon the political climate leading up to the break down of USSR, and the influence of said break down on the literary world. Yes, I read Russian in the original. I even translate the works that I find have not been translated into English. I do all this in time free from work and school.

    So which one of us contributes more to the society?

  27. 27 Tad said at 12:32 pm on September 13th, 2010:

    Decriminalize doesn’t mean legalize. Selling any drug is still a criminal and punishable act. Having anything more than a couple of “single-dose-equivalent” means you’re considered to be selling drugs. They still take any drugs on you, take note of who you are (your now considered a sick person) and it’s still illegal. You’re just not punished for it… But still, a resounding success!

  28. 28 Mia said at 4:23 pm on September 23rd, 2010:

    If tobbaco which is addictive and responsible for millions of deaths due to cancer is legal, then the government has no moral authority to prohibit other substances.

  29. 29 Mario said at 4:12 am on November 15th, 2010:


  30. 30 craig said at 8:01 am on March 30th, 2011:

    its a f..ed up world every one scratching some ones back, and the united nation need to go! we need another hitler to pull these asshole in line, nut it runs to deep now so what do we do? America has their finger in every pie telling the rest of the world what we can and cannot do,it a bit like when rome ruled the world how much they where hated, but as least we could smoke pot back then lol and if you where a roman citizen of the world you had a free run every where not like today our freedom has been erroded in every aspect in life i started toi notice it here in oz already and it sucks, maybe there are very few places on earth left to enjoy life whatever it has to offer, we only live for 70 to 80 years and they seem to want to make it like hell on earth, its all money and wastage just like my job!

  31. 31 Anonymous said at 8:24 am on June 3rd, 2012:

    […] Originally Posted by puffpuffpass714 i mean im in no way supporting legalizing any "hard" drug. Why not? Would you start shooting smack into your bloodstream if it were to be legalized tonight? No? Probably has more to do with the fact that you're aware of the health risks (ie. are educated) rather than the government's stance, right? Realistically speaking, we'd probably be off to a rocky start but after a while, full legalization and regulation would be better for society. Just look what it did for Portugal: Drug Freedom Works in Portugal […]

  32. 32 Drugs Questions Answered: Psilocybin and Psychosis - Alt Variety said at 12:01 pm on July 2nd, 2012:

    […] has the answer. Their experiment began ten years ago when they decriminalized all drugs. See NarcoPolo’s post for the accurate summary and the positive report from the right leaning RAND Corporation. They […]

  33. 33 Max said at 8:49 am on July 24th, 2013:

    Absolutely amazing. So glad portugal finally took the initiative and did such a positive thing for their country!

  34. 34 Jay said at 5:15 pm on September 25th, 2014:

    How about Uruguay legalizing Marijuana across the board? I hear they haven’t been having many issues with it.