Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Foreign Office Warns Tourists as Portugal Relaxes Its Laws on Drugs

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Foreign Office Warns Tourists as Portugal Relaxes Its Laws on Drugs

Article excerpt

Byline: MALCOLM BRABANT

THE Foreign Office is warning young British tourists not to treat Portugal as a drug haven, following the introduction of a new law which decriminalises all recreational narcotics.

British Embassy officials in Lisbon have beefed up their travel advice following the implementation this month of the new law, aimed at reducing Portugal's 100,000 hard drug users.

"This is decriminalisation, not legalisation," said Sandra Tyler Haywood, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Lisbon. "But we are concerned some people may see the new law as a licence for a free drug holiday."

The Embassy has already been taking calls from Britons asking when they can come to Portugal to take advantage of the new laws. The police are concerned that Algarve towns, already hugely popular with travellers from northern Europe, may become a magnet for drugs such as ecstasy.

The word on the street in Albufeira, the most popular destination for British tourists, is that ecstasy is for sale in the main square, which is normally packed with families eating supper. Gypsies peddle cannabis resin among stalls selling sweets and ice cream.

"Synthetics are a real worry," says Chief Inspector Joao Figueira, of Portugal's Drugs Intelligence Unit. There is also a risk that heroin coming to Portugal could increase. Let's hope not."

Publicly the Portuguese police support the new

radical stand because they accept the argument that zero tolerance practised by nations like Britain has failed to reduce drug dependency.

The Socialist administration has pledged that never again will drug users go to jail.

A user caught with a 10-day supply of drugs will be forced to face a tribunal of social workers, doctors and psychologists. Users of softer recreational substances will probably escape with a caution.

Persistent offenders could face a fine of no more than [pound]200 as well as other sanctions such as the loss of a driving licence. Ironically, the police have more work to do under the new law, because they are required to ensure drug users attend counselling sessions.

Critics fear that the liberalisation and the prospect of more paperwork will encourage the police to turn even more of a blind eye than before. …

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