Weed, marijuana, pot — the list is endless, and the conversation about legalization in Portugal is in full swing. A proposal was originally submitted to parliament by Bloco de Esquerda and Pessoas-Animais-Natureza, seeking to legalize medical marijuana and cultivation for personal use.
However, this seems to have been a step too far, and after resistance to the proposal from others in government, the original has been amended: legalizing cultivation for personal use has been struck from discussions. It is now looking more likely that cannabis will be treated like other prescription drugs, which require the user to go to a licensed dispensary.
This has not, however, stopped the issue from being discussed on the streets — more specifically, at the Marcha Global da Marijuana, which took place on Saturday.
The group responsible for the march doesn’t just want cannabis available for medicinal use. Instead, it aims for complete legalization and regulation. Their literature states:
“The prohibitionist and penalizing policy of cannabis use is a huge failure. It hasn’t succeeded in reducing or eliminating consumption; it is unfair; it does not protect consumers and it harms the most vulnerable. It feeds illicit markets; it is expensive and creates barriers to medical uses and research. It is time to truly decriminalize the consumption and acquisition of cannabis through strict regulation.”
A Marcha Global da Marijuana organizer, Joseph da Silva, reaffirmed the group’s position that cannabis should be completely legal. When discussing the recent changes to the proposed legislation, da Silva said it was disappointing that cultivation for personal use had been removed. He added that for him, the issue of legalization was about “public health and personal liberty.” Public health, according to da Silva, does not just involve the use of cannabis as a medicine, however: prohibition results in the consumption of cannabis from unknown sources and of unknown quality. He went on to say that “it is our body and our mind, and we should have control over how we treat it,” echoing the beliefs of many that marijuana use is a matter of personal choice.
When I had first arrived at the demonstration, the crowd was no more than six people scattered around a banner that read “Contra a Cri$e, Legalize.” Noticing that the police outnumbered the demonstrators 2-to-1, I thought it pertinent to find out what they thought of the matter.
The cops lounged in their vans, and after I caught one outside, we had a chat. The age-old arguments immediately came up, with the officer being worried about young people “wasting time and money” on weed. Not an irrational stance to take, and one made clearer when he explained that “it needs to be controlled. For medical uses it’s good, but too much can be bad.” Despite it being illegal in Portugal, he went on to say that “if you see people smoking on the street, usually nothing is done, and if people are smoking in their homes, they can do it as much as they want.” Wondering if I had stumbled across Lisbon’s one pro-pot cop, he was quick to add that “most people think the same.”
Over the next hour, the number of people swelled, with dozens of demonstrators brandishing signs and t-shirts against the war on drugs and espousing the benefits of cannabis. The march was set to leave at 16:20 (of course), and, only 10 minutes delayed, we set off. With spirits high, and participants higher, we marched through Rato and Príncipe Real toward Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. Onlookers were very supportive, and there were even some who joined in. People smiled, chanted, and marched in the sun, with an atmosphere as relaxed as you’d expect from a weed rally.
We arrived at the miradouro, and a sound system roared to life. The organizers gave several speeches, which were received with clapping and cheering, then people settled in for the evening.
Hanging out by the sound system, I caught up with one cannabis advocate, Niko Vorobiev. Currently researching for a book on the war on drugs, he expressed concern about the possible influence of large corporations, as legalization could see cannabis go the way of tobacco, with few companies controlling much of the supply. He, too, believes in complete legalization, but his reservations about how this could be actualized bring home the reality that this is still very much an open argument, without any clear answers.
The debate in Portugal is certainly ongoing, and while those marching on Saturday may not see the complete legalization they seek in the near future, we’re sure to witness profound changes soon.