In 2001, the sections of the Portuguese penal code regarding drugs were revised to incorporate an administrative system of fines and treatment plans.

Since then, lawbreakers have been ticketed and referred to hearings by a three-member panel, including a legal, health and social service expert. The panel can suspend proceedings for first-time offenders, issue fines for repeat offenders and force addicts into treatment. Using drugs is technically still illegal and it is important to stress that selling them remains a penal offense.

Since decriminalization took effect, Portugal appears to have achieved its stated goal of harm reduction for heroin addicts by destigmatizing their problem. Heroin addiction and HIV cases from dirty needles were on the rise in the 1990s, presenting a major health concern for the country. More addicts now seek treatment, which has led to a decline in reported cases of HIV, hepatitis B and C, as well as drug overdoses.

Nevertheless, consumption of all drugs has risen modestly—most notably for cocaine and heroin. Such policies therefore seem to be effective in reducing certain harms to society, namely those associated with addiction, but are less effective in curtailing consumption.

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Posted by Anaïs Faure