Oireachtas Committee Issues Report On Portuguese Drug Policy

You may have read my recent post about the Oireachtas Committee which travelled to Portugal to learn about its drugs policy

The three person delegation which visited Portugal last month has released their findings. The document is entitled “Report of visit by a Committee delegation to examine the impact of Portuguese approach to the possession of certain drugs “

You can read the report in full here

The five page document outlines a number of items, including their schedule while they were in Lisbon. Below are the individuals and organisations the delegation met during their visit:

3rd June 2015:

– Meeting with Dr. João Goulão, Director of SICAD (General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies) and Ms. Nádia Simões of the CDT (Commission for Addiction Dissuasion)

4th June 2015: 

– Launch of the EMCDDA 2015 European Report on Drugs

– Meeting with EMCDDA Experts: Danilo Ballotta, Brendan Hughes and Eoghan Quigley

– Meeting with Portuguese Parliamentary Committee on Health Meeting with Mr Pedro do Carmo, National Deputy Director of the Criminal Police Polícia Judiciária

5th June 2015:

– Meeting with the Director of EMCDDA Mr. Wolfgang Götz

– Visit to Taipas Withdrawal Unit.

The main body of report outlines the improvements seen in Portugal since its change in attitude towards drug policy over 15 years ago.

Despite fears to the contrary, the report highlights that since the change in policy:

– Drug consumption has not increased.

– The authorities maintain the same level of intolerance towards drug trafficking, both internal and international.

– Portugal did not become a destination for drug consumers.

– The number of crimes directly related to drug addiction has decreased.

These findings show that Portugal’s policy has achieved some of the results that prohibition has failed to.

The revelations that the level of drug consumption has not increased, and that crimes related to drug addiction have fallen, are to be broadly welcomed.

This is some proof that despite fears to the contrary, a more tolerant approach to drug use will not necessarily lead to higher usage or more crimes.

The fact that authorities have maintained the same attitude to drugs, and that Portugal has not become a tourist destination for drug consumers, should appease some concerns held by many prohibitionists.

The report also found that Portugal’s change in policy lead to the following developments:

– Drug consumers are no longer looked upon or treated as criminals, not only by the authorities, but also by society (including their own families)

– Drug consumers are less dependent on traffickers and police discretion, being especially true when it comes to people with less resources.

– The ending of thousands of criminal cases for drug consumption, that cost time and money with absolutely no gain.

– It is easier to know who is buying drugs, and thus it is easier to know who is selling them.

These other developments are largely to be welcomed. It appears that drug consumers are no longer viewed as counter culture but rather a sub culture. Which is positive for all involved.

The finding that thousands of costly and pointless criminal cases are to be avoided merely reiterates what activists have been suggesting for decades.

The report states on the issue of an individual avoiding a criminal record  that “This is an important component of the approach adopted in Portugal. The purpose of this provision is to allow the person the opportunity of a second chance at turning their life around.”

When it comes to the health of users the report found that “The number of HIV/AIDS cases has dropped dramatically”.

This finding is all the more relevant with the recent news that users of ‘Snow Blow’ have been linked with a HIV surge in Dublin

The report also outlines how the services for drug users are funded. 60% of funding is provided by the State in the health budget, while 40% comes from the national lottery.

Despite fears of rising health budget costs the delegation was told that “this approach has actually resulted in a reduction in costs to the State”.

Theses savings are a result of “a reduction in costs associated with police time, criminal investigations, legal aid costs and court time”.

It is also due to “the reduction in the number of HIV/AIDS cases thereby reducing the cost on the health budget.”

Also included in the report is a list of the amount of substances one can carry without facing criminalisation.

List of substances which can be legally carried
List of substances which can be legally carried

Overall the report reveals little new to activists who have been researching this issue for years. Revelations of crime reduction, savings on time and resources and better health outcomes have longed been predicted.

However this should not take away from the significance of this report.

The fact it is from a government committee which had two Fine Gael members involved, and comes in the aftermath of various positive comments from our new Minister for Drugs Strategy, is to be welcomed.

The reports also comes in advance of a new National Drugs Strategy, as the current one (2009 – 2016) is set to expire. Potentially this document may play a role in a different approach being taken.

Also key is that government is accepting submissions from the public on aspects of drug policy. Read here to learn more

If you feel strongly about changing Ireland’s drug policy then I would suggest you make a submission.

Hopefully this report, and the acceptance of public submissions, will be stepping stones to a change in Ireland’s attitude to drug policy.

However it must be remembered that this report does run the risk of acquiring the same fate as countless other govnernmental reports. That it remains unread and gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Lets make sure that doesn’t happen.

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