Drug decriminalisation in Portugal: setting the record straight

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Portugal decriminalised the possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001, and there now exists a significant body of evidence on what happened following the move. Both opponents and advocates of drug policy reform are sometimes guilty of misrepresenting this evidence, with the former ignoring or incorrectly disputing the benefits of reform, and the latter tending to overstate them.

The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise. However, such improvements are not solely the result of the decriminalisation policy; Portugal’s shift towards a more health-centred approach to drugs, as well as wider health and social policy changes, are equally, if not more, responsible for the positive changes observed. Drawing on the most up-to-date evidence, this briefing clarifies the extent of Portugal’s achievement, and debunks some of the erroneous claims made about the country’s innovative approach to drugs.