The Social Democratic Party (PSD), the largest party in the Portuguese Parliament, has endorsed the legal regulation of cannabis. TalkingDrugs spoke with the MP behind the motion.
The PSD holds more parliamentary seats than any other party, but remains in opposition due to the ruling Socialist Party’s alliance with several smaller left-wing parties. At the PSD’s national conference on February 17, a majority of party members voted in favour of a motion for legally regulating the drug “from production to distribution to sale”. As TalkingDrugs reported in February, the motion was put forward by former MP Dr André Almeida and Dr Ricardo Baptista Leite, a current MP and member of the parliamentary Health Committee.
Supporting the legal regulation of cannabis for non-medical purposes is a relatively fringe stance in European politics; there is, as yet, no country in the continent which has legalised the commercial production and sale of the drug. Baptista Leite told TalkingDrugs that he was initially uncertain about supporting legalisation due to the drug’s potential risks, but then came to believe that legal regulation was necessary because of these potential risks.
“Before looking at the evidence, I was personally resistant to the idea of legalisation, especially due to the preconceived ideas related to the potential risk of mental health consequences from consumption,” Baptisa Leite told us.
“After reading all the available scientific evidence, it became clear to me that with strict regulation we can mitigate the risks related to consumption of this drug – protecting citizens and societies – at least at the same level as we do with tobacco and alcohol. Actually, it is clear that by limiting concentration of THC, prohibiting all forms of synthetic drugs and manipulations, and by imposing an age limit of 21, one can avoid risks of cannabis-induced schizophrenia and other potential harms to mental health. All packaging should present clear warnings and content description, and it should be prohibited to sell edibles or to consume cannabis in any public environment, while driving, or at work.”
Although Portugal decriminalised the use and personal possession of all drugs in 2001, the state did not legalise any illicit drugs. Today, someone found using drugs – including cannabis – may be sent to a dissuasion committee, where medical experts, social workers, and legal professionals attempt to dissuade the individual from using drugs through a variety of means (none of which involve criminalisation).
The existence of these committees, which are health-centred, help authorities gain insight into drug use trends through open discussion with people who use drugs. Baptista Leite told us that insight acquired through these interactions helped motivate him to endorse cannabis legalisation.
“The number of cases being sent to the dissuasion courts is [overwhelmingly] related to the consumption of cannabis. The people using this drug are getting younger and the product they are buying off the street is more potent and manipulated than ever. This poses multiple risks for the individual and for society at large. Instead, the drug should be sold at community pharmacies – to ensure quality control – with the use of a mandatory central database to ensure that consumers only purchase amounts for personal use.”
Indeed, bringing an end to the harms of the illegal cannabis trade are equally important to reducing the potential harms of cannabis use, Baptista Leite said.
“The price of legal cannabis products should be [fixed at] street value as an incentive to get consumers to stop buying drugs from dealers and thus aiming towards ending the illegal market altogether. Taxes that are collected through the legalisation of cannabis should be earmarked for cohort studies of the impact of the drug, to reinforce police and military drug forces, to finance dissuasion and prevention public health programmes, and to fund civic and health education teaching modules throughout all school years.”
While his suggestions may sound revolutionary to European policymakers’ ears, such arguments have led to the successful introduction of regulated markets – and a subsequent suppression of illegal cannabis markets – in Uruguay and several US states in recent years. By securing an endorsement from the largest party in Portuguese politics, Baptista Leite hopes he will now encourage society and the current government to understand the need for a “regulated, safe, and responsible legalisation of cannabis”.