Legality of cannabis and CBD in Portugal

Cannabis Portugal

Portugal appears to be quite liberal when it comes to drug policy, including cannabis. In this country, international facilities dedicated to the production of medical cannabis abound, but the question arises: what is the situation for cannabis users and how does CBD fit into this picture? I had the opportunity to interview Laura Ramos, Portuguese journalist and founder of Cannareporter and editor-in-chief of Cannadouro Magazine.

Cover photo: Cannabis store in Lisbon. Photo: Laura Ramos | Cannareporter

Is CBD legal in Portugal and, if so, in what forms and under what laws?

There are many CBD products available throughout Portugal, but they are not regulated. When Portugal legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, all supplements with CBD were removed from health food and dietary supplement stores. Then Infarmed, our Health Authority, said that CBD could only be authorized as a medicine, but to date they have not authorized any, also because no company has asked them to authorize a medicinal CBD product on the market. The DGAV – Directorate General of Food and Veterinary says that CBD is an unauthorized “novel food” and as such, cannot be marketed. Hemp in Portugal can only be grown or marketed for fiber and/or seeds.

Okay, in theory CBD cannot be marketed in Portugal, but what happens in real life?

In fact, many retailers and stores sell CBD flowers, CBD oils and CBD food products in Portugal. There have already been a few court cases, following seizures of such products by the police, in which the court forced the Judicial Police to return the CBD-rich hemp flowers to the traders from whom they had been confiscated. In those cases, the court affirmed that hemp flowers, with less than 0.3% THC, are not considered narcotic.

So, is it legal to sell CBD-rich flowers with less than 0.3% THC in Portugal?

In theory, no. The law regulating hemp cultivation states that CBD flowers cannot leave the farmer’s property, and hemp can only be produced for seed and/or fiber. However, in practice, CBD products are on sale everywhere, so they are not difficult to find. But they are unverified and unregulated and are often labeled as “souvenirs” or “decorative items” to evade strict regulations.

Portugal has more than 100 cannabis stores, about 30 in Lisbon. CBD is widely used by thousands of patients in various products.

Cannabis store in Lisbon
Cannabis store in Lisbon. Photo: Laura Ramos | Cannareporter

What is the legal limit of THC?

Portugal follows the guidelines of the European Commission, so, like all other European countries (except those that decided otherwise, such as the Czech Republic, where it is 1%), it is now 0.3% THC.

Are there many CBD stores in big cities? Do you have any idea, for example, how many there are in Lisbon Central? Tens, hundreds?

There are at least more than 100 physical cannabis stores throughout Portugal, not only in the larger cities. Lisbon should have more than 30 stores. If we count online stores, this number increases, but there is no official data that can confirm any of these numbers.

Do you have any estimate of how many Portuguese use cannabis or CBD products?

We have no official data, but we are sure that thousands of people, most of them patients, are using all kinds of CBD products, from oils to flowers, edibles and beverages. Many people buy from “cannabis stores”, others manufacture their own products, and a large number of people still rely on the illicit market.

According to a survey conducted in 2021 by the Portuguese Institute of Drugs and Addictions (Instituto Português de Drogas e Adicciones) (SICAD), with a sample of 3,188 people who used cannabis, 3,019 used illegal cannabis (95%) and 614 used legal cannabis (19%) – and here SICAD said that “legal cannabis” means “CBD and/or low THC content products, sold in stores” – and only 2 people used cannabis prescribed by a doctor (0.1%). This survey mentioned that “almost all legal cannabis users are at the same time illegal cannabis users” and “only 38 consumed exclusively legal cannabis (1%)”.

What is the policy on “recreational” cannabis with more THC?

Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of small quantities of all drugs for personal consumption in 2001. This means that when the police catch someone with a certain amount of cannabis, people could be forced to go to a Drug Dependency Deterrence Commission or else they will pay a fine. This is better than having a criminal record or going to trial, as it is only a few sessions with a health care team to assess the individual situation, but it is attracting more people year after year. This is not due to problems with cannabis use, but rather to increased enforcement by the police, who refer all users to these places or to the court. Cannabis-related confiscations are the most frequent in Portugal, with many cases of people growing at home for their own consumption ending up in court or even in prison. So decriminalization is not a paradise in Portugal, as many people might imagine. There is still a lot of prejudice and misinformation.

What is the prevalence of THC-rich cannabis use, is it increasing or decreasing? What about young people?

According to data reported by SICAD, in 2018, there were about 500,000 regular cannabis users, two-thirds of them using it four or more times a week. At the time, the report indicated a slight upward trend, especially among Portuguese between the ages of 25 and 44, but this was the latest data we had. A report on drug use published by the European Medicines and Drugs Agency (EMCDDA) in 2021 revealed that Portugal is the second most regularly consumed country in Europe, behind only Spain. Cannabis is the illicit substance that young people start using the earliest, with an average age of 17 years, but unlike adults between 25 and 44 years, the youngest in Portugal (between 15 and 24 years) have shown a decrease in consumption.

Is medical cannabis legal in Portugal? How does it look in books and how does it look in practice?

Medical cannabis was approved in Portugal in 2018 and regulated in January 2019, although patients still struggle to obtain suitable cannabis-based medicines. Legalization was very beneficial for all the companies that came to Portugal to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes for export. Portugal is currently one of the largest producers of cannabis, but only two drugs can be prescribed by doctors and found in pharmacies: Sativex oral spray and Tilray’s 18% THC flowers. Nothing else is available by prescription. Another important fact is that medical cannabis is not yet being taught in universities and doctors still lack training in this field, so they do not feel comfortable prescribing it. In practice, most patients act as their own doctors and still buy cannabis on the illicit market.

Can I get medical cannabis, for example, for depression in your country?

No, not for depression (yet). When Infarmed regulated the medical cannabis law, they said that any doctor can prescribe cannabis, including general practitioners, but they only included seven therapeutic indications in which doctors can prescribe, and only when all other medical options have failed. The list of therapeutic indications considered appropriate for cannabis-based preparations and substances in Portugal is as follows:

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury;
  • Nausea, vomiting (resulting from chemotherapy, radiotherapy and combination therapy for HIV and hepatitis C drugs);
  • Appetite stimulation in palliative care of patients undergoing cancer treatment or AIDS;
  • Chronic pain (associated with oncologic or nervous system diseases, such as neuropathic pain caused by nerve damage, phantom limb pain, trigeminal neuralgia or after shingles);
  • Gilles de la Tourette syndrome;
  • Epilepsy and treatment of severe seizure disorders in childhood, such as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes;
  • Treatment-resistant glaucoma.

According to Infarmed, this list may grow, provided they have sufficient evidence to demonstrate the health benefits.

Are there any trends we should be aware of? Will Portugal legalize and regulate cannabis in the near future, or should we expect a change of direction?

Unfortunately, and despite the various bills presented in Parliament, I do not believe that cannabis legalization will happen in the near future in Portugal. At least, I don’t think Portugal will advance ahead of Germany. Some people I have interviewed over the past few years have said that they prefer to wait for the experiences of other countries rather than move forward with legalization on their own. However, with two bills to be debated this year and a majority of members of Parliament in favor of legalization, anything could happen. The policy is highly dependent on external factors, so we will see what happens.

About Laura Ramos

Laura Ramos is a Journalist, Editor in Chief at Cannareporter and Cannadouro Magazine and Curator of Programs at PTMC – Portugal Medical Cannabis.

With a degree in Journalism from the University of Coimbra, Laura Ramos has worked as an editor and reporter in various media, from national television (RTP) to newspapers and magazines such as Euronotícias, A Capital or Sábado.

He was a news correspondent for the newspaper “Jornal de Notícias” in Rome, Italy, in 2004/2005, where he completed postgraduate studies in Photography. Laura later became Head of Press at the Ministry of Education, in addition to creating the photographic archive of street art “Say What Lisbon?”.

Currently, Laura is the Editor-in-Chief of the news website CannaReporter and Cannadouro Magazine, and directed the documentary “Pacientes”, about medical cannabis users, which was presented at the Portuguese Parliament’s Health Commission in 2018.

She is co-founder of PTMC – Portugal Medical Cannabis, where she serves as Program Curator, and coordinated three international conferences that received more than 1,000 attendees from 25 different nationalities.

Laura was also involved in the organization of the first Postgraduate Program in Good Manufacturing Practices of Medicinal Cannabis in Portugal, in 2019, in partnership with the Military Laboratory of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Products and the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Lisbon.

* Interview adapted from the original by Cannactiva.

Lukas Hurt
Cannabis activist : Journalist focusing on cannabis-related issues in Central Europe

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