“In Portugal, the police are much more effective since decriminalization”, estimates the national anti-drug coordinator

Police officers in Lisbon in December 2019 (illustration) – PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP

  • In 2001, Portugal implemented a policy of decriminalizing the consumption of all drugs to combat the health crisis linked to addictions.
  • This policy has proved its worth, believes João Goulão, one of the architects of this reform, who spoke with 20 Minutes.
  • The Director General of the Intervention Service for Addiction and Dependency Behaviors, which as such coordinates the fight against drugs, believes that the adoption of a comparable policy by other European countries “could be a step forward. “

While the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin reaffirmed the government’s will to suppress the consumption of drugs, in particular cannabis, in France, Portugal opted almost 20 years ago for an opposite policy. Gangrened by heroin use and HIV, the country implemented the decriminalization of the use of all drugs in 2001. While 100,000 Portuguese were heroin addicts in 1999, nearly 50,000 are today. , according to the Intervention Service for Addiction and Dependence Behaviors (SICAD). In 2019, 8% of Portuguese aged 18 to 34 had used cannabis in the past year, compared to 21.8% of the French.

Member of the committee that drafted the report on the initiative of the drug policy, João Goulão answered questions from 20 Minutes. For the doctor, who heads SICAD, “prevention and intervention are now simpler since the subject is no longer a taboo” in this former dictatorship where drug users were systematically imprisoned.

Your country has chosen a strategy for combating drug use that is unique in Europe. How are drug use cases handled now?

There is now a distinction between criminal procedure and simple administrative procedure. People arrested for possession or consumption of drugs are brought to the police station where the police determine, depending on the quantity, whether the substances are for personal use or not. If there is no suspicion of trafficking, these people are called before a “drug addiction deterrent commission”, made up of doctors, legal representatives and social workers.

Rather than launching legal proceedings, the objective is to determine the substance of the drug problem. Even if you do not have problematic drug use, the committee will offer you social or psychological support if you wish. If you are addicted, she will invite you for treatment or to go to a detoxification center. You have the right to refuse it, but you expose yourself, in the event of a repeat offense, to criminal penalties.

With such measures, how do the authorities fight against drug trafficking?

It should be remembered that those arrested with a quantity exceeding the legal limits are prosecuted until the courts and risk convictions. The decriminalization of the consumption of narcotics was only the modification of an article of the law on drugs: that concerning the personal use of substances. Everything that involves the fight against drug trafficking has not changed since 1993.

So we have the same legal tools. And I would say that the police authorities are much more effective since decriminalization. They no longer waste their time, energy and resources for users, and can devote themselves to large criminal organizations.

What do you say to people who consider that these measures push people to use drugs?

Quite the reverse! Users more easily request and accept treatment if they need it. Even if sanctions (community service, fines, obligations of care…) are planned for repeat offenders, consumers are no longer stigmatized for the rest of their lives. Prevention and intervention are simpler since the subject is no longer a taboo.

You seem very satisfied with the Portuguese drug situation. Would you advise other European countries like France to give the approach adopted in Portugal a chance?

Yes. I think that decriminalizing the use of drugs in European countries would not be absurd. Obviously, societies and habits are different depending on the country. But for others to adapt this policy could be a step forward. We still have many challenges, including the fight against drug trafficking on the Internet and the emergence of new synthetic drugs. But I am delighted with the results achieved so far.

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