There has been huge international interest in the new direction that Portugal has taken in its drug policy since 1999. In that year, a new national drug strategy was adopted. This included a new law that decriminalised the possession of all illicit drugs, which came into force in July 2001 (Lei n.° 30/2000, de 29 de novembro 2000). It also included a broader expansion of public health, prevention and treatment services. The Portuguese approach has recently been described as a ‘model of best practices’ by the President of the International Narcotics Control Board (Sipp, 2015).

This chapter will describe these developments and will provide data that enables some assessment of their effects. It draws on research published in previous articles (Hughes & Stevens, 2010, 2012; Hughes & Stevens, 2007) and more recently published data1. These studies themselves drew on secondary analysis of documents and data produced, as well as interviews with key stakeholders in Portugal in 2007 and 2009. It should be stated at the outset that there remains contestation about some of the outcomes from this reform (for an overview of the two most divergent accounts see Hughes & Stevens, 2012). It is also very difficult to identify whether the patterns in drug use and related problems have been caused by the new strategy, especially as little data is available on the situation prior to 2001. It is even more difficult to identify which parts of the strategy may have led to which particular outcomes. The Portuguese strategy must be seen as an integrated package of measures, rather than attributing any changes observed to decriminalisation alone.

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