Historically, Portugal is regarded as somewhat of a trailblazer when it comes to drug reform. The country made history when it decriminalised the use of all illegal drugs (if found in small amounts intended for personal use) in 2001.
This uniquely progressive legislative act is widely regarded as a success for Portugal’s crime statistics. However, from a wider perspective, this approach has seen cannabis grouped together with far more dangerous and damaging drugs. As a result, Portugal seems set to stagnate in social and economic limbo while its Spanish neighbours are progressing cannabis reform.
The sale and cultivation of cannabis presently remain illegal with the latter specifically exempted from 2001’s reform. Furthermore, legislation introduced in 2003 led to Portugal being one of a very small number of European states to make cannabis seeds and any equipment used for personal cultivation illegal. Needless to say, this legislation has given rise to a significant industry of cottage cultivators.
It is now 15+ years since Portugal’s revolutionary legislation but very little progress has actually been made. At present, there are no prominent political figures advocating a change in legislation and, as a result, Portugal seems set to remain rooted to its restrictive and inconsistent legal stance. Meanwhile, the majority of Europe is making progress.
This stance has resulted in an unregulated, black market that has the distribution of cannabis throughout the country monopolised. Of course one of the main effects is that the Portuguese government is currently missing out on a recreational market estimated at €106 million per annum. Recently, there has been a number of campaigns for the regulation of cannabis social clubs but the reality is that the advocates have been shown little to no attention by the ruling political party.
After showing early signs of reform, Portugal is now missing out on the nascent medical cannabis market which currently expanding rapidly throughout Europe. Such a marketplace seems an inevitable target for a country with historical ties to drug reform. Yet, despite attempts from various political figures, there is still no plan or meaningful discussions to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes in this country.
The cultivation of certified hemp seeds is legal in Portugal. So, even though the Portuguese public may have a while to wait for a medical cannabis market, the economy may still be able to capitalise in the not too distant future.
British company GW Pharmaceuticals already utilises Portuguese soil to cultivate up to 21 tonnes of cannabis for their spray, Sativex. In addition, major Canadian producers, Tilray, announced plans this year to invest €25m into a cultivation and R&D facility 220 kilometres north of Lisbon. Even though 100% of the cultivated crop is destined for export, this investment could generate €40m per year in revenue for the Portuguese economy.
As it stands, the current Portuguese government has shown no interest in a change in reform, despite the enormous potential a regulated cannabis market holds. However, with the emerging medical cannabis markets in Germany, Poland, and Greece, a country with as liberal a history as Portugal could witness a change in legislation within a matter of years and therefore still see success within Europe’s legal cannabis marketplace.