If I told you now that I had one gram of cocaine in my pocket, you would not arrest me. No. -No?
-No. Ahh Portugal. Maybe the only place on Earth where you can rock up at a cop shop, tell them you’ve got a pocket full of smack, and not get arrested. Is it true that no one has been arrested for drug possession in the last 17 years in Portugal? Not one person. No. Not one. No one. So, right now if I had under two grams of coke, 25 grams of pot, and one gram of MDMA or heroin I could feasibly walk straight out of this cop shop. Sans drugs of course. Still, how is that even a thing? Well, in 2001 Portugal decriminalised drugs. Meaning, you’re allowed to possess a small amount of any illicit substance, without getting arrested. Why? Quick history lesson. For decades Portugal was a closed off catholic country run by a dictator. I mean Coca-Cola was banned and you needed a license to own a cigarette lighter. Then in 1974 there was a revolution and with it came an explosion of freedom. And with that, came drugs. But Portugal just wasn’t equipped to deal with it. And that’s when shit got real. By the 1990s 1% of the Portuguese population was addicted to heroin. As in 1 in every 100 people had a heroin addiction. Rates of AIDS infections among drug addicts were higher than anywhere else in the EU. Now drug use among young people is down and drug induced deaths are four times lower than the European average. AIDS infections and overdoses among addicts are now almost non-existent. Two syringes, two spoons. Citric acid in water. This injection kit is just one of the items provided by this drug outreach unit. The other is methadone. 55-year-old Mario took up heroine at the age of 13, at a time when the drug was everywhere. It was a massive problem. Every family, you know someone that was taking heroin. It was awful because people were taking drugs in the streets. Dying on the streets, infecting others, sharing needles and then the government they are saying there is something to do about it. Do you think that that problem has been addressed? Or has been tackled? Sure. Yes. Hugo says decriminalisation has made it easier for services like this to exist. Where do you think that you would be without this methadone program? He believes he would be dead. Dead? Yeah. These policies have made it easier for drug addicts to get the drugs that they need, but just how easy is it for everyone else to get the drugs that they want? Do you think if you wanted drugs that you could find some? I think so, people keep offering us. I’ve noticed that there is a lot of people smoking weed. Places like this one it’s quite common. Maybe some persons will come to you in this spot and ask you do you want hash, do you want weed? You wouldn’t have to really try hard. Well people here are very relaxed talking about drugs and maybe even smoking them on camera. They also told me that I would have absolutely no problem finding them. Weed, hash, cocaine, MDMA. Whatever you want! But before you think this is a recreational drug users paradise, think again. A 2017 report found that young Portuguese people are smoking less pot, snorting less coke and popping less pills than those in Britain, France, The Netherlands and a bunch of other European countries. The key difference is, when the Portuguese are caught with drugs, they don’t end up with a criminal record. They end up here. -Hi.
-Hello. This is the commission for the dissuasion of drug abuse. This room is normally where we have the preliminary interview. There are no courts, cops or convictions. This looks just sort of like an office building. Yes Normally what we have to show at the Dissuasion commission is that there is not that much to show. Y’know? It’s just a normal office building. And what happens in offices? Admin. Names are recorded, people are interviewed and folk are either free to leave or referred up. What’s the kind of general age of people that come here? Most of the people we see are normally under the age of 25, 30 years old. -So they’re actually quite young?
-Yes. What substance are they using? Normally cannabis. Joual, not his real name was busted with a small amount of hash a few days ago. He’s agreed to speak to us but doesn’t want to show his face. Was it stressful coming here today? No. Why no? Given it’s his first offence, Joual is free to go. If within 5 years he’s sent here again though, he risks tougher consequences such as fines. So was this a waste of your time coming here, do you think? So do you think that after this you’ll stop using hash? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe. But maybe not? There is not going to be a drug free society anywhere. We decided to assume that. What we think we should do around dissuading people, is basically pass information about the risks and consequence. And we know people will probably continue to use the substance that they are using, we just hope that they do it in a more conscious and more responsible way. The Portugal model treats drugs users the same way Australia would treat alcoholics. As a health issue, not a criminal one. So, why hasn’t it taken off anywhere else? It’s been almost 20 years since Portugal decriminalised drugs and while some countries still see it as a radical experiment for Portugal, there’s nothing radical nor experimental about it. It’s simply an accepted solution to what was an unacceptable problem.