Man credited with decriminalizing drugs in Portugal not sure legal cannabis is the right move

By January 23, 2019 Recent News

CTV News 12 October 2018 
The man who helped Portugal decriminalize all drugs isn’t yet sure if Canada’s plan to legalize cannabis is the right one.

Joao Goulao, the current national drug coordinator for Portugal, says his country will be keeping an eye on Canada as it legalizes cannabis next week, but doesn’t yet know if the move is a good idea.

“I’ll wait and see,” Goulao told CTV News’ Paul Workman. “I’m very curious. I’ll watch it very closely because I’m sure the discussion is going to be had in my country also.”

“I believe this is probably the best step that we can do to deal with (drug abuse), but I would like to see the results.”

Goulao is considered a principal architect behind Portugal’s landmark decision in 2001 to decriminalize all drugs. Now 17 years later, the country has seen major drops in drug overdoses and HIV.

Goulao has already been keeping a close eye on Uruguay, which legalized cannabis in 2013, and some of the states in the U.S., but believes Canada will provide the best case study for what a world of legal marijuana would look like.

“I believe the Canadian model is probably the best one, to show us the results, what we can expect from that decision,” he said.

Drugs are still illegal in Portugal, however users are sent to counselling instead of being charged with a crime. Those selling illicit drugs are still considered criminals.

“Decriminalization is not the solution for everything, but everything is much easier (when) thinking about addiction as a disease with the same dignity as other diseases,” said Goulao.

Goulao adds that Canada’s marijuana legalization represents a significant shift forward from Portugal’s laws, but says Canadians should monitor the situation to see if people start using cannabis more frequently, if people are choosing to consume cannabis at a younger age or if they are moving on to harder drugs.

Cannabis becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17.