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Portugal: All Roads Lead to Legalisation, But When?

As reported by Cannareporter

The legalisation of cannabis in Portugal has been a long and winding road, which has been traveled for more than a decade, with the Bloco de Esquerda (BE) leading the odyssey to reach the much-desired destination. However, in recent years, almost all parties have been converging in the same direction, albeit with different ideologies. BE and IL (Liberal Initiative) have appointed September as the month to start the discussion in Parliament, but nothing has yet been confirmed. Is this the year when white smoke comes out of the Assembly of the Republic?

Year 2023. It is practically consensual that the legalization of adult use should happen this year in Portugal. We just don’t know yet when or how. With two bills (PL) presented in this legislature to the Assembly of the Republic (AR) — that of the Left Block (BE) and that of the Liberal Initiative (IL), and it is not yet clear whether the PAN – People-Animals-Natureza and the PS (Socialist Party) will do the same, the submission for debate in plenary is not yet foreseen. There are those who say that it could be as early as September, but nothing is certain yet.

BE was the first and the one that most often submitted bills to the Assembly of the Republic for the adult use of cannabis to be regulated. To date, none of them has seen the light of the Diário da República, but the issue of cannabis legalisation has long been a consensus in the hemicycle of the Portuguese Parliament.

Right turning left

The legalisation of cannabis is no longer an issue pondered only by leftist parties. In February 2018, André Almeida and Ricardo Baptista Leite, both doctors and PSD (Social Democratic Party) deputies presented, during a party Congress, the motion “Legalise – Strategy for the responsible legalisation of cannabis use in Portugal”, defending a serious debate with its militants on the subject and making a series of recommendations which, they said, were based on scientific evidence and on experiences carried out in other countries. The motion received an ovation from the militants present at the Congress, aroused the curiosity of the media and Ricardo Baptista Leite gave numerous interviews regarding the intentions of legalisation, with cannabis being sold in pharmacies to people over 21 years old, but the proposal never materialised . Two years later, in February 2020, the JSD (Social Democrat Youth) also held an internal referendum, in which it asked young militants whether they agreed with “the decriminalisation and regulation of the sale of cannabis, for recreational purposes, to adults of the same age”. 21 years or older”. The referendum took place in venues across the country and, according to JS, the objective of the initiative was to try to understand whether or not most of the structure would be in favor of regulating the sale of cannabis. Out of a total of 1575 voters, 57,8% expressed a positive opinion towards legalisation, with 911 militants voting in favour, 597 against, 59 blank and 8 null. However, nothing happened following this referendum.

A Parliament crystallised in 2001

Although the majority of left-wing parties are, in general, in favor of regulating cannabis, an understanding has never been reached to move forward with a concrete law. On June 9, 2021, the Parliament debated in plenary the legalisation of the personal use of cannabis, proposed by two parties, BE and IL. In a heated debate, which lasted almost two hours, it only took a few minutes to realise that the speech of the parliamentary groups had changed little or nothing since the last time the issue had been discussed, in 2018. With the exception of the proposing parties, it could even claiming that most deputies crystallised their speech in 2001, referring to exhaustion the “Portuguese example of decriminalisation” and how much Portugal was “innovative” and “pioneer” in harm reduction policies, without realising it that 20 years have passed and, after all, everything remains the same.

The tone of the debate was essentially paternalistic and uninformed, often based on myths and false assumptions not supported by science. Cannabis continued to be the skeleton in the closet, responsible for the famous “psychoses”, which deputies never tired of invoking, even hearing the term “psychopath”. Self-cultivation, the seven-headed animal, which not even some leftist parties can yet fit in.

Of the 6378 offenses for substance use and 6019 individuals indicted in 2021, 4807 were for possession of cannabis, 707 for cocaine, 367 for heroin, 25 for ecstasy and only 5 were for other drugs. (SICAD data)

In a country where reports by SICAD – Intervention Service for Addictive Behaviors and Addictions – reveal every year that the main cause of death by overdose in young people is alcohol, accessible at any street corner, insistence has continued on cannabis as the worst of all evils.

Moisés Ferreira, from Bloco de Esquerda, is one of the main MPs to insist on the legalisation of cannabis in Portugal

Invoking the example of the 2001 decriminalisation as if Portugal were the world’s reference also makes no sense, when we know that every day people are arrested for having two, three or half a dozen plants at home. People who cultivate for their own consumption, so as not to have to resort to criminal networks, continue to be arrested, accused of drug trafficking and made defendants before a court that obliges them to issue an identity and residence document, with weekly presentations (at times daily) at a police station, and paying heavy fines. How can all these costs for the State with police operations and court proceedings be justified?

It should be remembered that, of the 6378 administrative offense proceedings for substance use and 6019 individuals indicted in 2021, 4807 were for possession of cannabis, 707 for cocaine, 367 for heroin, 25 for ecstasy and only 5 were for other drugs (data of SICAD’s annual report). It should be noted that, of the total number of individuals indicted, 86% had a “non-drug addict” consumption profile.

In 2022, we continue to criminalise and humiliate adults who choose to use cannabis, when we know that there are not, and never have been, overdoses associated with this plant alone and even after the UN and WHO (World Health Organisation) have recognised the its therapeutic potential.

In Portugal, there is a lack of a serious debate about cannabis, with people who really understand what they are talking about, and not ‘parrots’, who for decades have been repeating the same prejudices associated with prohibition in the early XNUMXth century. Portugal’s “international example in terms of drug policy” has only proved, to date, that appearances are deceiving and that from theory to practice there is a great distance.

Plenary Session in the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic

The dissolution of the government and the ‘shuffle and give back’
After the debate on 9 June 2021, the bills of the BE and IL went down to the Health Commission to be discussed in the specialty for 60 days, which did not happen. In September, the president of the Parliamentary Health Commission, Maria Antónia Almeida Santos, deputy of the PS, asked for the first deadline extension, for another 60 days, for a new assessment of most of the two bills. However, shortly afterwards, the proposals would end up expire with the dissolution of the Assembly of the Republic, in December 2021, following the lack of consensus on the State Budget for 2022.

With the PS elected again in 2022, and despite the fact that the party with the majority in government is essentially favorable to legalisation, returned to square zero in terms of bills. Without disarming, the BE returned to the load last June and submitted a new PL to the AR, revised and modified after the previous one had expired. The current version now proposes to legalise cannabis “for personal use”, replacing the term “adult use”. The proposal foresees that the State regulates the creation of authorised commercial establishments, the sale of cannabis online and the domestic cultivation of 5 plants per person.

A difference between this PL and the previous one is that the Bloc dropped the article that prohibited edibles or drinks with cannabis, which revealed some progress, taking into account that this is a market with enormous potential, which could represent revenues of billions of euros. However, “the sale of cannabis enriched with aromas, flavors or additives” is prohibited. “The sale of synthetic cannabis” is also prohibited.

“The prohibitionist policy is not a solution. In fact, it is an integral part of the problem and makes it worse, protecting illegal trafficking and jeopardising public health”.

BE also proposes that the State regulate the entire cultivation, production and distribution circuit, being able to determine a maximum limit of THC, as well as the consumer price, in order to combat trafficking and the illegal market. The proposal also says that “the retail sale of cannabis plants, substances or preparations for personal consumption without a medical prescription and provided that for purposes other than medicinal purposes, is subject to authorisation by the General Directorate of Economic Activities”.

Pedro Filipe Soares, BE deputy, pointed out that legalisation is a way of “combating the black market”, “manipulated substances” and “uninformed consumption”. He also defended that Portugal has to accompany the countries that have already legalised cannabis for personal use, such as Malta, and those that are debating it, such as Germany, where the legalisation of cannabis is one of the points of the Government agreement established between the SPD and Greens. The Bloc emphasises that “the prohibitionist policy is not a solution. In fact, it is an integral part of the problem and makes it worse, protecting illegal trafficking and putting public health at risk”.

Specialty stores and seeds in agricultural stores

In the explanatory memorandum of the BE document, it is emphasised that “legalising cannabis for personal use – more commonly known as recreational use – is to combat trafficking networks and is to combat organised crime networks that are often financed through drug trafficking. substances like cannabis.”

Establishments for the sale of cannabis must have, “only and only, as an activity, the sale of cannabis plants, substances or preparations”, with the exception of “commercial establishments whose main activity is the sale of agricultural or similar equipment, machinery and plants”. , where the trade in cannabis seeds is permitted”.

The Liberal Initiative proposal, presented at 4:20

This year, the deputies of the Liberal Initiative political party marked the 20th of April (4:20 am) with the submission of a bill in the Assembly of the Republic that proposes the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes in Portugal. The document proposes the creation of “a free, open and competitive market for goods and services based on non-medicinal cannabis” and provides for the possibility of self-cultivation.

Carlos Guimarães Pinto, from the Liberal Initiative, in Parliament.

bill 735/XV/1  aims to create a free, open and competitive market for goods and services based on non-medicinal cannabis. The proposal refers authorisations to the Directorate General for Food and Veterinary Medicine (DGAV), in cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale, import and export activities. In the case of wholesale trade, it is subject to authorisation from the General Directorate of Economic Activities and mandatory communication to Infarmed IP. In the case of cultivation for personal purposes, the proposal does not include any type of registration or authorisation.

In the IL proposal, traders will be free to develop and commercialise any products, namely through cannabis in its botanical forms and direct derivatives, mixture of cannabis with tobacco or other smokeable substances, including electronic smoke, recombination of cannabis in the form of beverages, including caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, recombination of cannabis in the form of edibles and also products containing ingredients or additives aimed at altering the character of the product, namely aromas, flavors, aesthetics or the profile of psychotropic effects.

However, the diploma also proposes the possibility of limiting potency by setting THC limits on products to be marketed, while creating similar exclusion conditions for sale to minors under 18 years of age, people with a mental disorder or who are visibly intoxicated. .

Self-cultivation restricted to authorized seeds

The IL bill, despite allowing cultivation for personal use, includes some provisions regarding quantitative limits on housing. Likewise, it restricts the free use of seeds by consumers, preferring the use of authorised seeds.

In this way, those whose objective is to carry out self-cultivation will be limited by the authorised seeds and must acquire them in establishments licensed for the purpose. The draft law is still unclear with regard to the carrying out of seed marketing activities and breeding itself (creation of cultivars by crossing).

The agenda of the Assembly of the Republic does not yet foresee the discussion of any bill on the legalisation of cannabis.

The sale or any commercial use of the product obtained by self-cultivation is also prohibited and the government may limit the concentration of THC in seeds for personal cultivation, through an ordinance, which, although hardly feasible, completely closes the path the exchange of seeds between growers and the development of specific genetics adapted to each geographic space.

On the other hand, the diploma proposes to increase the maximum values ​​foreseen for possession, also allowing online sales. A label is proposed for packages of cannabis products that contain information about the components and ingredients present in the respective product, including provenance, respective amounts and concentrations, the concentration of THC and CBD and the expected effects of consuming the product. It should also provide warnings and information about potential health consequences, including useful contacts for medical assistance.

The agenda of the Assembly of the Republic does not yet foresee the discussion of any bill on the legalisation of cannabis, and it is not known whether any other parliamentary group will come forward with proposals on this matter.

The Cannareporter spoke with Moisés Ferreira, from BE, who has been the main driver of these proposals in the party, and with Carlos Guimarães Pinto, from the Liberal Initiative. Interviews with MPs from the two parties currently leading the way towards legalisation in Portugal will be published shortly on Cannareporter.

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