2. 20 years of Portuguese drug policy: developments and current challenges
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. Against the background of a growing diversity of drug use patterns observed in Portugal (as well as in Europe), we critically discuss the developments and current challenges the Portuguese drug policy confronts, namely: 1) the re-establishment of the crime of consumption for quantities above the stipulated; 2) some of the contradictions that the practices of the Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction comprise and 3) the hesitations that have marked the implementation of harm reduction measures. The argument is that, at different times and at different levels, this response has proved to be conservative, eroding the character of the National Strategy for the Fight Against Drugs (1999), either by contradicting the spirit of the decriminalization law, or by making it difficult to monitor the evolution of the phenomenon along with the construction of safe and adequate responses that more clearly preserve drug users from the harms of the stigma historically associated with drug use. We end with a set of suggestions for practice.
To this end, international and national legal instruments concerning drugs and official local data were analyzed.
The long-lasting tension between criminalizing drug use (and align with United Nations conventions) and supporting drug users appears to be heightened as the enthusiasm of the decriminalization law might be fading and its execution eroded by time or routine. In order to accommodate and better address the last 2 decades of sociocultural transformation, which includes the growing diversity of drug use patterns, we discuss the impact for practice, namely the need to reinforce the spirit of the decriminalization law.