Updated on January 7, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Portugal’s approach to medical and recreational marijuana is unique. The country has decriminalized cannabis, as well as all other drugs, yet refrains from legalizing medical marijuana, even though it permits the cannabis-based Sativex. For patients and physicians, it’s essential to understand the approach Portugal has adopted.
Portugal doesn’t necessarily have a medical marijuana program, as even medicinal weed is illegal. Instead, it allows physicians to prescribe Sativex, which is a licensed medicine that’s cannabis-based and contains two well-known cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Due to the technical illegality of medical and recreational marijuana, you cannot cultivate cannabis. The government also prohibits the cultivation of marijuana for personal use, as well as the use of medical weed — outside of Sativex. As a result, the country’s program is limited, especially since Sativex is only approved for multiple sclerosis (MS).
The history of medical marijuana in Portugal is well-documented. Since the 1500s, the country has been importing and cultivating cannabis. Like many countries, however, Portugal criminalized marijuana during the 20th century.
Then, in 2001, legislators began to rethink their approach to recreational and medical weed. Legislation was passed to decriminalize cannabis, as well as every other drug. Portugal’s process for handling drug arrests also changed. Instead of fining and imprisoning its citizens, the country instead evaluated if they needed rehabilitation assistance.
While lawmakers attempted to legalize the cultivation of marijuana for personal use in 2013, the bill failed to pass.
A violation of Portugal’s recreational and medical marijuana laws is possessing or cultivating cannabis for personal use. While the country does not issue fines or jail time often, it does require patients to meet with a lawyer, doctor and social worker. These individuals evaluate whether you need treatment, per the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction.
Back in 2000, Portugal began the process of creating a strategy and legislation for a telemedicine program. So far, only five public hospitals support the country’s telemedicine efforts — and just for dermatology and cardiology.
Because Portugal only permits the prescription of Sativex, just one condition qualifies for medical cannabis — multiple sclerosis. This decision by the Portuguese government leaves many patients without an effective treatment for coping with their pain.
Medical marijuana cards are not a part of Portugal’s medical cannabis program. Often, when pharmacies serve as the distributor of medical weed, the country does not require you to apply for an identification card. The way Sativex is packaged and delivered also makes it easy to distinguish from traditional pot.
A few facts about medical marijuana in Portugal include:
Recreational and medical marijuana penalties in Portugal depend on the violation. In most cases, the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction recommends treatment, rather than issuing a fine. Charges for possessing marijuana can range between $30 to $40. Trafficking incurs more substantial penalties, including jail time.
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