When Portugal decided to decriminalise all drugs in 2001, a lot of people worried drug consumption would skyrocket.

More than a decade and a half's worth of data now shows the opposite happened.

As of July 2001, all drugs are decriminalised. That includes weed, cocaine, heroin, everything.

This does not mean drugs are legal; it means consuming them is not a crime.


What this means is that the Portuguese police force does not arrest anyone it finds with what is considered less than a 10-day supply of drugs - that's a gram of heroin, ecstasy, or amphetamine, two grams of cocaine, or 25 grams of cannabis.

If you are caught doing drugs, you get a medical referral rather than a criminal record or a prison sentence.

Instead of being arrested, drug users are ordered to appear before "dissuasion panels" made up of legal, social and psychological professionals.

The country treats drugs like a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.

"We had a lot of criticism at first," recalled Dr João Goulão, the architect of the country's decriminalisation policy.

But the country was in crisis, with the highest rate of drug-related Aids deaths in the EU in 1999 - so something needed to change.

"Criminalisation certainly wasn't working all that well," Goulão told Der Spiegel in 2013.

What the country found is that, taking the stigma out of drug use meant that people with addiction issues were more likely to seek help.


Here are five things that happened after Portugal decriminalised all drugs, according to Transform, a UK-based drug policy think thank:

1. Since the decriminalisation, the rate of new HIV infections fell drastically, from 1016 cases in 2001 to only 56 in 2012.

2. Overdose deaths and drug-related deaths in general also saw a sharp decrease. Portugal's current drug-induced death rate, three per million residents, is now more than five times lower than the European Union's average of 17.3.

3. Consumption of legal highs plunged as drug users did not bother with synthetic highs when they could get the real deal.

In fact, compared to rest of the EU, young people in Portugal now use the least amount of "legal high" drugs like synthetic marijuana.

4. Additionally, drug-related crime also dropped, as did the number of people in prison for drug-related offences.

5. The number of people seeking medical help for the treatment of drug addiction rose a whopping 60 per cent between 1998 and 2011.

Drug traffickers still get sent to jail but users are referred for treatment. Photo / Getty Images
Drug traffickers still get sent to jail but users are referred for treatment. Photo / Getty Images