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20 years of Portuguese drug policy - developments, challenges and the quest for human rights

  • RÊGO, Ximene1
  • OLIVEIRA, Maria João2
  • LAMEIRA, Catarina3
  • CRUZ, Olga S.4
  • 1 University of Minho, Campus de Gualtar, Braga, 4710-057, Portugal , Braga (Portugal)
  • 2 Institute of Sociology of the University of Porto, Via Panorâmica, s/n, Porto, 4150-564, Portugal , Porto (Portugal)
  • 3 Agência Piaget para o Desenvolvimento (APDES) / RECI, Alameda Jean Piaget, n.100, 4001-801 Arcozelo, V.N.Gaia, Portugal , V.N.Gaia (Portugal)
  • 4 University Institute of Maia (ISMAI), Research Unit in Criminology and Behavioral Sciences (UICCC/ISMAI) and Research Centre for Justice and Governance, University of Minho (JusGov/UM), ISMAI - Avenida Carlos de Oliveira Campos, Maia, 4475-690, Portugal , Maia (Portugal)
Published Article
Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Jul 17, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s13011-021-00394-7
Springer Nature
  • Commentary


Portugal decriminalized the public and private use, acquisition, and possession of all drugs in 2000; adopting an approach focused on public health rather than public-order priorities. Arguing that the Portuguese Drug Policy Model has not proven influential enough to emancipate drug use from the stigma that associates it either with crime or pathology, this article critically discusses the developments and current challenges the Portuguese drug policy confronts, namely the growing diversity of drug use patterns observed in Portugal as well as in Europe. To this end, international and national legal instruments concerning drugs and official local data were analysed. Despite encouraging results, conclusions indicate that these policies are marked by contradictions and ambiguities that have permeated its history since the very beginning, and modest ambitions, particularly regarding the implementation of harm reduction measures. Moreover, the polemical Supreme Court judgment that reestablished, in 2008, drug use as a crime when the quantities at play exceeded those required for an average individual’s use for 10 days, might have impacted the landscape of drug use penalization. The last decade saw an increase of punitiveness targeted at drug users, including criminal sentences of jail terms. We finish with some suggestions that could be employed in the practical application of drug policy.

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