Michael Hoban, Prohibition Partners
11th June 2021
During a Parliamentary debate on Wednesday 9 June, two political parties in Portugal, Left Bloc and Liberal Initiative, each presented proposals for adult-use cannabis legalisation.
The outcome of the debate was an agreement that both Bills be sent to the Health Committee for a period of 60 days, during which public hearings can be made, amendments presented and negotiations carried out before the deciding vote occurs in Parliament.
Fabian Figueiredo (Left Block Party) addresses Parliament during the debate
A spokesperson for the Parliament of Portugal told Prohibition Partners that, due to the timing of the debate and the 60-day period of negotiations, the bill “more than likely won’t go for final voting before the end of this legislative session,” with this session scheduled to end in late July (the next one beginning on 15th September 2021).
What are the Parties Proposing?
Both parties are essentially proposing that the cultivation, distribution, purchasing, possession and consumption of adult-use cannabis [plant or derivatives] should be legalised. “Self-cultivation” for personal-use would also be allowed if either Bill was passed, with a maximum of five or six plants permitted per home (Left Bloc proposes five plants, Liberal Initiative proposes six).
Both Bills debated in Parliament on Wednesday also recommend that there should be:
A limit on the amount of cannabis an individual can purchase at one time.
Restrictions in place for consumption (consumption would not be allowed at work, in closed places of public frequency, in places intended for children, or on public transport, for example).
Government-imposed limitations on the sale of products containing high levels or doses of THC.
Robust and proper labelling on product packaging in relation to THC or CBD content, effects of consumption and health warnings.
The major difference between both Bills is that the Left Bloc party is proposing State control of the entire circuit of cultivation, production and distribution – including a register of all users. In contrast, the Liberal Initiative proposes little-to-no State control over cultivation, trade or consumption, keeping in line with the “culture of freedom” associated with cannabis, the Liberal Initiative party says. The Left bloc propose a ban on synthetic products and more processed products, such as infused alcoholic drinks, whereas the Liberal Initiative say these should be allowed.
Another key difference between the two Bills is around the pricing of products. Whilst the Left Bloc party proposes government regulation on pricing of products, with a maximum sale price imposed based on averages from the illicit market to combat illegal trade, the Liberal Initiative propose a free market approach whereby prices would be self-regulated by sellers and buyers.
Prohibition vs. Public Health?
The Left Bloc party’s Bill 859 is critical of current policy in Portugal and suggests continued prohibition presents a public health issue.
“The prohibitionist policy is not a solution, in fact, it is part of the problem and enhances its aggravation by protecting the clandestine nature of trafficking and jeopardising of public health. Legalisation and subsequent regulation will promote conscious, free and informed consumption,” Bill 859 states.
Similarly, the Liberal Initiative party’s Bill 862 claims cannabis use in Portugal has increased substantially over the last decade, but the fact that there is ‘no consumer protection or purchase security’ is a threat to public health.
“In Portugal, currently, cannabis is widely distributed and consumed, and it [possession and consumption] no longer has criminal consequences. However, the decriminalisation that took place in Portugal in 2001, considered exemplary in the world panorama, was not a liberalisation because cannabis continued to be clandestine, and continued to expose consumers to criminal underworlds and adulterated [unregulated] products,” Bill 862 says.
Adult-Use Legalisation in Europe
Momentum towards adult-use legalisation is gathering pace across Europe. Other countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg or Germany could potentially pip Portugal past the post as the first European country to legalise adult-use cannabis, as policy reform continues to become more of a priority for political parties across Europe.
As predicted in the European Cannabis Report: 6th Edition earlier this year, Portugal may factor cannabis liberalisation into its post-pandemic economic recovery plans. Although it remains to be seen whether the latest proposals in Portugal are part of a wider economic recovery plan, legalisation would undoubtedly provide a welcome boost to the Portuguese economy.
The proposals from both Portuguese parties regularly reference the economic benefits of legalisation through things like taxation, whilst also highlighting the positive social implications of doing so, such as crime reduction and entrepreneurship.
If legalisation progresses as we have forecasted, Portugal – along with other European countries like Spain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Malta – may introduce legal access to adult-use cannabis, at least on a trial basis, by 2025.
According to our forecasts up to 2025, we predict that Portugal could be the second-largest adult-use cannabis market in Europe by way of sales, behind the Netherlands whose trials with adult-use cannabis should be operational by 2022 or 2023 at the latest.
The European Cannabis Report: 6th Edition contains the most in-depth consideration of the cannabis market in Europe to date. Download the report here for free.
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