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Is cannabis legal in Portugal?

Portugal bridge and CBD

It might take you by surprise, but Portugal is well known for being the first country to abolish criminal penalties for the consumption and possession of all drugs.

Amidst an opioid overdose crisis and the highest HIV rate in drug users across Europe, Portugal decided it was time to take action. Put in place in 2001, the decriminalisation program replaced severe punishments with a more thoughtful approach: individuals caught with insignificant amounts were either fined or guided into treatment and rehab programs.

The war on drugs was over. Drug usage and addiction were now seen as a health problem and no longer as a crime, and this helped to shine a new light on the cannabis world too.

In this article, we’re going to be covering the legal aspects of cannabis in Portugal and how the country is becoming greener and greener by the year.

The possession and use of drugs in Portugal

In the late 90s, Portugal was in the grip of heroin addiction. Drug-related issues were quickly becoming the number one problem in the country, and Casal Ventoso, a hilly Lisbon neighbourhood, ran what was then considered as Europe’s biggest open-air drugs market.

Now, this was something to worry about. And that’s why in 2001, a radical step was taken: Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all drugs.

The decriminalisation strategy was to show drug addiction as a disease and to find a solution for it, rather than punishing addicts with imprisonment. Today, if someone is caught with drugs for personal use, a commission is formed which includes a legal expert, a psychologist, and a sociologist. 

With a more human-centered approach, Portugal’s drug policy is revolutionary in the sense that it treats addicts with dignity and has given a new life to millions of drug users across the country.

The cannabis industry in Portugal

You can find a few articles online suggesting that Portugal is the new Amsterdam, and well, that’s… not so true at the moment. While buying and using cannabis is technically not a crime, that doesn’t mean the streets of Portugal are lined up with Amsterdam-style coffee shops.

It simply means that you won’t go to jail for smoking weed (or using any kind of cannabis product, for that matter). Medical marijuana prescriptions are also in the works.

As far as growing it goes, optimum cannabis cultivation requires a perfect mix of sunshine hours and reasonably priced labour. Cultivating and harvesting cannabis requires a lot of effort and dedication, and Portugal has just the right conditions for it.

The cannabis industry is booming in the country. With similar weather conditions to California (a cannabis-growing wonderland), more and more international companies are investing and setting base in Portugal. The Alentejo region of the country offers great agricultural soil and houses only 7% of Portugal’s population, leaving a significant area for cannabis growing.

Medical marijuana in Portugal

The health benefits of cannabis keep being proven by new research, and the world is slowly turning to marijuana for its medical purposes.

Portugal made the move in 2018. With the legalisation of medical marijuana in the country, a government agency (Infarmed) was given the authority to regulate and supervise everything related to the use of medical cannabis in the country.  The same agency is responsible for approving or rejecting applications on production, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis-based products in Portugal.

As of today, you need a prescription from a licensed physician to buy medical cannabis in Portugal, and it will only be given to you if you suffer from one of the qualifying conditions: chronic pain, nausea or vomits associated with cancer and HIV treatments, among a few others.

Portugal imports Sativex and that is the only type of legal medical cannabis easily available in the country — a prescription will provide a 30-day supply and has to be renovated every month.

As to comply with the Portuguese and European law, the way the market went around this was by making CBD products available as food supplements (with a THC content of <0.2%). A few dedicated shops started popping up throughout the country and, as of right now, it is also possible to buy CBD online in Portugal at retailers like CBDbom.

Industrial hemp in Portugal 

The cultivation of industrial hemp is legal in Portugal as per the regulations of the European Union. The hemp plants should contain no more than 0.2 % THC and the company must seek a permit from the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture. The farmers and the crop are subjected to inspection throughout the year to avoid any inconvenience.

How is cannabis cultivation regulated in Portugal?

Portugal’s hemp cultivation tradition continues — Regulatory Decree No. 23/99 allows hemp grown for industrial purposes (fiber and seeds for food). To be considered legal, the crop must not contain more than 0.2% THC. The General Directorate for Food and Veterinary (DGAV) controls the cultivation of hemp for fiber and seeds.

Individuals and companies interested in hemp cultivation and processing for medical and scientific purposes should contact Infarmed. Personal cultivation of cannabis for medical or recreational use is not yet permitted in Portugal.

In the first year of the medical cannabis bill, five companies scored a permit to plant and export cannabis in a total area of almost 300 acres. Infarmed stated that they received over 1000 cannabis requests on their support lines during this time.

So… is cannabis legal in Portugal? A wrap-up

Essentially, yes. As you’ve just read, there are a few nuances to the legality of cannabis in Portugal, whether we’re talking about recreational or medical use.

Low-THC plants are already widely cultivated in the country, and it’s possible to buy and use CBD in Portugal as a food supplement, besides the prescription-only pharmacy version.

Now, the people wait for the government to make the next big move towards recreational cannabis. The cannabis growing business is showing a lot of potential for capital generation and Portugal is ready to show why green is the new black.

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