The Portuguese parliament has approved some changes to Ordinance 94/96 of March 26, better known as ‘the drugs law’. The new law broadens the scope of personal consumption, and no longer considers possession of more than the quantity allowed for consumption over 10 days as evidence of trafficking. This means that, from now on, police who seize substances from a consumer will have to prove that they were intended for the illicit market, and not for personal consumption, before charging them with ‘drug trafficking’.
The Portuguese government this week approved the final text of the new drugs law, the result of a bill submitted to parliament in March by a group of mainly Social Democratic Party (PSD) MPs. It was approved by parliament after some criticism from the Judicial Police and the PSD itself.
However, the final version of the text, after a long passage through the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees, was the result of a joint debate over both the Social Democratic bill and a bill submitted in June by the Socialist Party (PS).
The draft law initially submitted by the PSDs aimed to correct the already outdated name of the authority responsible for updating the upper limits for individual daily doses.
However, the passage through the parliamentary committee and the draft law proposed by the PS resulted in a final text which, in addition to updating the body’s name, stipulated that possession of a quantity greater than 10 days’ supply was an indication that the purpose might not be self-consumption.
It sought to update legislation to replace the defunct Superior Council of Legal Medicine with the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.
This measure is particularly important in order to put into place the mechanisms proposed in Ordinance No 94/96 of 26 March 1996, which defines the diagnostic procedures and expert examinations necessary to characterise the state of drug addiction, as well as the maximum quantitative limits for each individual average daily dose of the plants, substances or preparations listed in Tables I to IV annexed to Decree-Law No 15/93 of 22 January 1993, which are most frequently consumed.
The PSD and PS proposals to amend the drugs law
The PSD’s proposal sought to speed up the inclusion of synthetic substances that are beginning to present problems in various parts of the country and Europe to the list.
The PS’ proposal, on the other hand, called for a change in the way the legislation is interpreted, due to the fact that there are more and more convictions for consumption, due to the application of case law which ends up in the criminalization of drug users.
While the Social Democrat MPs’ bill aimed to rectify an already obsolete name that was still in force in the legislation, the version proposed in June by Socialist MPs brought a different approach to Portuguese drug policy: possession of more than what is typified in Ordinance 94/96 is not necessarily considered trafficking.
This amendment was approved in the Specialty Committee, thus changing the drug law in order to make more flexible the amount of substances that consumers can have in their possession without being criminalised.
The amendment was based on data from the Report of SICAD – Intervention Service in Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies, which warned that the Jurisprudence Fixation Agreement 8/2008 of the Supreme Court of Justice legitimised, based on the legislation in force, conviction for the crime of consumption.
The amendment proposed by the PS is based on the premise that the possession of quantities greater than the tabulated amount is no longer a crime of consumption, and only the quantitative dimension is an indication that the possession may be intended for trafficking.
Despite the criticism of the Judiciary Police, which expressed its opposition to the amendment, the PSD also presented an explanation of the vote in which it welcomes the update in the classification of the law, but criticises the measure proposed by the PS.
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