The Portuguese parliament voted on July 6 to decriminalize the use and possession of illegal drugs. The measure, which includes both "soft" drugs such as marijuana and "hard" drugs such as heroin and cocaine, keeps criminal penalties for production and trafficking in illegal drugs.
"The idea is to get away from punishment and move toward treatment," a spokesman for the Ministry of the Presidency, which handles drug policy, told Reuters.
Under existing Portuguese law, drug users and possessors faced up to a year in jail. Now, instead of a criminal charge, offenders will be charged with an "offense against the social order" and fined. Police will report drug takers to special local commissions, which are charged with ensuring that addicts seek treatment. The fines will be waived if the offender accepts drug treatment.
"It was agreed that in relation to drug addicts, a fine system will no longer be applied; a sick person should not be compelled to pay a fine. He should instead be supported under the best possible circumstances," said Left Bloc Deputy Francisco Louçã.
The ruling Socialist Party needed help from the Communist Party, the Left Bloc and ecological parties to win the vote. The measure survived a negative publicity campaign by the conservative Social Democratic Party, which bought ads in five major newspapers, Narco News reported (http://www.narconews.com/portugal1.html).
According to Narco News, the vote marks the first time that leftist parties anywhere have united to support decriminalization. It also comes in the wake of US efforts to enlist European Union support for American escalation in Colombia.
Portugal now joins Italy and Spain among European Union member states which have effectively decriminalized the use and possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.
Parliament is now in recess until September, but members of the Left Bloc have announced plans to introduce even deeper reforms when the session resumes. They will introduce legislation to have the government supply addicts with heroin and provide "injection rooms" where users can inject in a safe and therapeutic environment.