António Guterres (UN Secretary-General) discusses Portugal's decriminalisation


António Guterres (UN Secretary-General) discusses Portugal's decriminalisation

9 February 2018

On 16 January, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, held a press conference on his "Priorities for 2018". A Notimex reporter, Maurizio Guerrero, asked him about the Portuguese experience with decriminalisation. The following is a transcript of the exchange:

Reporter: Thank you, Secretary-General. Maurizio Guerrero from the Mexican news agency Notimex. Portugal effectively decriminalised drugs more than 15 years ago. A policy by...

António Guterres: It was done by me.

Reporter: Right! Exactly!

António Guterres: And it was not drugs. It was the consumption.

Reporter: The consumption of all drugs, yes...a policy that has been regarded, and by all metrics has been successful. And it is perfectly in line with the Conventions of the United Nations. So my question is: Would you actively recommend member states to consider these policies given the high cost of the so-called war on drugs? Thank you.

António Guterres: It would not be nice if I would be now making self propaganda...

First of all, the policy that was approved was not simply a problem of decriminalisation of consumption. It was not legalisation, it was decriminalisation in the sense that the State guarded the responsibility to support people looking into their health, into their treatment and there was a responsibility in interacting with persons on this. There was a number of other measures of prevention, of public health related to this. The introduction of several other policies to complement it, so it was not one single measure. And we kept a very strict policy of the criminalisation of drug trafficking.

This policy according to the indicators that are now available proved to be successful, not only because it diminishes the risks for the people and the society, but in the end consumption decreased. In the follow up of the introduction of the policy, I mean, it's up to each country to define its own policy. Not as Secretary-General of the United Nations, [But] as former Prime Minister of Portugal I am particularly proud of what we did. It was not easy. It was not a consensual measure. I think it worked.

It's up to each country to decide its policies. But I think there is a serious discussion that is needed about drugs, the so called "war on drugs". I believe the discussion should be without prejudice, without pre-established parameters because this is one of the most complex problems that we face. It has a personal dimension, it has a dimension of public health, it has a dimension of impact on the structure of states. We see states being dramatically impacted in their institutions because of this.

So, this is an area which I would suggest open discussion without prejudice and without predetermined positions because I don't think anybody can be sure that there is a one single solution for the problem. This is very complex in many dimensions and it is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed. We tried, in Portugal, at the time, and I am now speaking in my past capacity, to find what we thought was the best solution for a country that was a small country, we couldn't adopt a policy not taking into account the environment. So we were not entirely free...for a small country that would optimise the situation of the people, having the people as the centre. And I think it was successful.