Portugal approved the decriminalization of synthetic drugs, The Portugal News reports. Portugal has had the most liberal approach to all drugs across Europe for decades. The drug strategy, put in place in 2000 and enacted in July 2001, was initially created to reduce the HIV/AIDS toll stemming from intravenous drug use cases using a harm reduction model. (In 1999, Portugal had the highest rate of HIV amongst such drug users in the European Union.) Their policy included decriminalizing personal drug possession and would influence similar efforts in places such as Oregon. And it worked, at least at drastically reducing HIV rates. As The Washington Post reports, HIV transmission rates via syringes plummeted.
However, while drugs are decriminalized for those who enjoy them, their policies maintain criminal penalties for drug trafficking. So basically, you can get in trouble if you supply, but not if you use. Anyone familiar with how drug culture works can understand that while the goal is admirable, this approach is far from perfect if the true goal is to protect the public’s health. People will always find a way to get drugs whether their suppliers get arrested or not. But what such suppliers are selling is changing.
Synthetic drugs are artificially modified from naturally-occurring substances. For example, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. The new law equates the legal approach to these substances with that of “classic drugs” like cannabis, heroin, and cocaine. The debate regarding synthetic drugs that led to their decriminalization centered on these new substances’ adverse effects on communities. While Portugal’s laws offered hope to harm reductionists worldwide, as The Washington Post notes, unfortunately, due to more recent and deadlier drugs, and other factors, the country still has drug problems. Drug use is apparently more visible on the streets than ever, and interest in offering help for substance use disorders seems to be dwindling.
“At the end of the day, the police have their hands tied,” said António Leitão da Silva, chief of Municipal Police of Porto, adding the matter now is much like the years before decriminalization was implemented in 2000.
“Twenty-seven years later, it is necessary to change the current legal framework in order to cover this new and harsh reality,” social democratic deputy Sara Madruga da Costa said, calling back to the 2000 law, adding they plan to provide a “faster response and more effective response to this complex and alarming phenomenon” which mainly affects Madeira and the Azores regions in Portugal.
Madruga da Costa says that the distinction between consumer and dealer “is fundamental” to combat the horrors of synthetic drugs by applying their current laws to newer drugs. In addition to decriminalizing synthetic drugs, the text further eliminates the criteria based on the number of doses, or amount of drugs, to distinguish between consumers and traffickers (i.e. who can get arrested). However, it still aims to differentiate one from the other, so suppliers can’t relax yet.
Cláudia Santos, deputy of the PS (Portuguese Socialist Party), noted that 23 years ago, the “historic decision” was made to decriminalize the possession of drugs for consumption in Portugal. Despite this legislature, from 2009 onward, the number of citizens convicted of crimes of consumption went up. “With this project, we want to reaffirm the option made for the prevention and treatment of consumers,” said the PS parliamentarian, considering that possessing drugs for consumption “should not be a crime,” The Portugal News reports.
Part of Portugal’s drug policy has always included treatment, and they hope to offer care more than ever, as psychiatric hospitalization due to unhealthy use of synthetic drugs has spiked, Business Insider reports. However, their system is far from perfect. There are currently year-long waits for state-funded rehabilitation treatment.
You should know that while the country developed a progressive drug policy reputation early on, cannabis remains illegal.
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