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Portugal amends drug law to end criminalization of drug use

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The Portuguese Parliament approved some amendments to Ordinance No. 94/96, of March 26, better known as 'the drug law'. The new diploma expands the dimension of personal consumption, no longer considering as proof of trafficking the possession of more than the permitted amount for consumption during 10 days. This means that, from now on, the police who seize substances from a consumer will have to prove that they were intended for the illicit market, and not for personal consumption, before accusing him of 'drug trafficking'.

The Assembly of the Republic this week approved the final text of the new law on drugs, the result of a bill that arrived in São Bento in March, by the hand of a group of deputies from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), mainly islanders. The final text was approved by the Assembly of the Republic after some criticism from the Judiciary Police and the PSD itself. However, the final version of the text, after a long passage through the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees, was the result of joint discussion between the aforementioned social democratic project and a bill submitted in June by the Socialist Party (PS).

The bill initially submitted by the social democratic deputies aimed to rectify a name of an entity that was already obsolete, but which was still in force in the legislation (the PSD proposal intended, namely, to update the name of the public entity to be heard regarding the updating of maps referring to quantities and average daily individual doses). However, passage through the parliamentary committee and the bill proposed by the PS resulted in a final text which, in addition to updating this nomenclature, typifies that possession of a quantity greater than 10 days constitutes an indication that the purpose may not be self-consumption.

At issue was the simple updating of the legislation, replacing the extinct Superior Council of Legal Medicine with the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences. This measure is particularly important for putting into operation the mechanisms proposed in Ordinance n.º 94/96, of March 26, which defines the diagnostic procedures and expert examinations necessary to characterize the state of drug addiction, as well as the maximum quantitative limits for each average individual daily dose of the plants, substances or preparations listed in tables I to IV annexed to Decree-Law n.º 15/93, of January 22, of the most frequent use.

Proposals to amend the PSD and PS drug law
The PSD's proposal intended to speed up the inclusion in these maps of synthetic substances that are starting to present problems in various parts of the country and Europe, but, above all, on the islands. The PS's proposal proposed that the interpretation of the legislation be changed, due to the fact that more and more convictions for consumption are presented, by application of jurisprudence, which ends up translating into the criminalization of drug users. If the draft law of the social democratic deputies had the objective of rectifying a name for an entity that was already obsolete, but which was still in force in the legislation, the version proposed in June by the socialist deputies brought a different approach with regard to Portuguese drug policy: possession of more than what is typified in Ordinance 94/96 is not necessarily considered trafficking.

This amendment was approved by the Specialty Commission, thus changing the drug law in order to make the amount of substances that consumers can have in their possession more flexible, without being criminalized for the crime of consumption. The alteration was based on data from the SICAD Report — Intervention Service for Additive Behaviors and Dependencies, which warned that the Jurisprudence Fixing Agreement 8/2008 of the Supreme Court of Justice legitimized, based on the legislation in force, conviction for the crime of consumption. The amendment proposed by the PS is based on the premise that possession of quantities greater than the table is no longer a consumer crime, with only the quantitative dimension being an indication that possession may be used for trafficking.

Despite the criticisms of the Judiciary Police, which came out against the change, the PSD also presented a declaration of vote in which it congratulates itself on the update of the nomenclature in the law, but where it criticizes the measure proposed by the PS.

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