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Is Medical Marijuana Legal in Portugal?

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Last updated on May 17, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

These days, many people rely on medical marijuana for conditions such as anxiety (49%), insomnia (47%), chronic pain (42%), and depression (39%), according to a study published on the US National Library of Medicine. And if you’re thinking of visiting Portugal, or especially moving here, you may be concerned about getting access to the resources you need, as this Portugalist reader notes:

Looking to obtain medical Marijuana while on vacation. Have a doctor’s approval due to cancer treatment and would like to have access if possible without getting scammed or in trouble. Thank you.

Now, Portugal has a reputation for having a progressive approach to drugs, but it’s important to understand the nuances of their policies.

Policy Towards Drugs

In 2001, Portugal decriminalised all drugs, including cannabis, a policy that has been largely celebrated although some commentators note that it has its problems.

Some articles online might give the impression that Portugal is the new Amsterdam or Colorado when it comes to cannabis. But that’s not quite accurate. You won’t find coffeeshops or dispensaries openly selling marijuana here.

However, you will find some scams. In places like Lisbon and Porto, there are guys who whisper “hashish, marijuana, cocaine” as you walk past. If you’re looking for some very expensive bay leaves or oregano, or you’d like to clean your nose out with washing powder, they’re the guys to speak to.

Fake weed lisbon
The fake weed almost looks like the real deal

In practical terms, this means that if you’re caught with a small amount of weed for personal use, you won’t face jail time. However, it’s crucial to note that decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation. Possessing, using, and selling marijuana is still illegal in Portugal, and you could face legal consequences if caught.

Policy Towards medical marijuana

Portugal has legalised medical cannabis, but it’s not as widely prescribed or accessible as it is in some other countries. If you’re coming from a place like the US or Canada, where getting a medical marijuana card or even purchasing marijuana for recreational use is relatively commonplace, you may be surprised by the situation in Portugal.

Portuguese doctors tend to be cautious about prescribing cannabis, often viewing it as a last resort rather than a go-to treatment. Even though Portugal is a significant exporter of medical cannabis, the domestic medical marijuana scene is still developing. Currently, the only available medical cannabis product is Sativex, a nose spray that costs around 475 Euros (though patients can get a 37% reimbursement from the state).

The Portuguese government is considering further legalisation of marijuana, but it’s unclear if or when this might happen. For now, if you’re moving to Portugal and rely on medical cannabis, it’s important to be aware of the limited availability and the different attitudes towards prescribing it.

Some people have successfully travelled to Portugal with a medical marijuana prescription from another country, as this Redditor from the /r/ukmedicalcannabis/ community shares.

I took about 21gs for a 6 days trip (Doc has prescribed my 3gs a day and a little extra incase of delays. I also had a digital copy of my script and printed “travel letter” from my clinic.

I mentioned to the customs guy that I had a “controlled medicine” in my hand luggage and if I should remove it from my bag to which he replied yes.

My bag went straight through the scanner and out the other side without being pulled aside for an extra check.

I went through the green channel at Porto Airport and headed straight out for a vape outside the terminal!

If anyone is worried about Portuguese travel don’t be!

The future of drugs in Portugal

Ever since Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001, people have been saying that it’s only a matter of time before it turns into the new Amsterdam. That’s not happened, and it’s been almost 20 years.

In 2016, Colorado generated more than $1.3 billion in revenue from marijuana sales. Nearly $200 million of that will go to taxes, which is so much that the government has even considered giving local citizens a rebate.

Of course, most people have long known that taxing marijuana sales would be extremely profitable. Portugal no doubt knows this but, despite going through its worst recession in 40 years, it never legalised marijuana completely. 

It is, however, looking towards the medicinal marijuana market, and pharmaceutical companies like Tilray have invested millions into its cannabis farm productions in Portugal. In fact, Tilray plans to make the small town of Cantanhede near Coimbra, where its production plant will be, its main hub for Europe. 

This doesn’t mean weed is going to be available recreationally, of course, but it does suggest another step in that direction from Portugal. 

Should Portugal fully legalise like Colorado and other places have done? From a financial point of view, it would seem to make sense. From a tourism point of view, however, it’s a little more complicated.

Lisbon and Porto are both experiencing the negative effects of over-tourism, something which Amsterdam is also trying to solve, and it’s likely that Portugal could have more over-tourism problems if it legalised weed. 

A potential solution would be to legalise weed, but to only allow the sales to take place in specific neighbourhoods (Berlin have proposed making weed legal in Kreuzberg but not in the rest of the city). Or, alternatively, to make one or two non-touristy towns in Portugal the new Amsterdams. 

Would the residents of those neighbourhoods or towns actually want this? After seeing what’s happened to Amsterdam, it’s quite possible that they wouldn’t – despite the potential jobs and tax revenue. 

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.