Portugal’s liberal policies, which mean those caught with drugs for personal use are no longer treated as criminals, have been hailed by campaigners including former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg
The number of school-children who have used cannabis has doubled in the European country that decriminalised drugs, according to a major international survey.
Fifteen per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds in Portugal admitted having used the drug in the survey carried out last year.
In 1995, when tougher drug laws were in place, the number of teenagers in the country who had used cannabis was just 7 per cent.
Portugal’s liberal policies, which mean those caught with drugs for personal use are no longer treated as criminals, have been hailed by campaigners including former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, tycoon Sir Richard Branson, and even Home Office civil servants.
But the findings on the Portuguese experiment led to fresh warnings yesterday that Britain should not follow the decriminalisation lead.
In contrast to Portugal, the number of teenagers who use cannabis in Britain – where laws against drug abuse are frequently criticised by reform campaigners – has more than halved over the past 12 years.
Kathy Gyngell, a fellow of the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said that the Portuguese outcome was entirely predictable.
She added: ‘It is what happens when you remove sanctions. It is a disaster for young people in Portugal, and it would be a disaster for young people in this country if the Portuguese example were ever followed here.
‘Even though our laws against cannabis and other drugs are hardly enforced, removing them would send a highly damaging signal. It would be playing Russian roulette with the lives of young people.’
In Britain, according to government-backed studies, 30 per cent of school pupils between 11 and 15 had tried illegal drugs in 2003. But by 2014 the level was down to 11 per cent of 15-year-olds who had tried cannabis, and 2 per cent any other illegal drug.
The findings on cannabis in Portugal come from the respected European School Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), which carried out a survey last year in 35 European countries. Nearly 3,500 Portuguese schoolchildren took part.
But the findings on the Portuguese experiment led to fresh warnings yesterday that Britain should not follow the decriminalisation lead
Portugal brought in its decriminalisation law in 2001. Instead of being arrested, those caught with drugs for personal use are considered to have a health problem and are required to appear before a committee which considers the best treatment.
In 1999, the number of 15 and 16-year-olds in Portugal who had used cannabis was 9 per cent. According to the ESPAD survey, this rose to 15 per cent in 2003, dropped to 13 per cent in 2007 and, in 2011, rose again to 16 per cent.
The latest finding shows that cannabis use among pupils has remained at around double mid-1990s levels consistently for a dozen years.
In Britain brief experiments with drug liberalisation under Tony Blair’s government led to indicators of rising cannabis use among the young.
However levels appear to have more than halved since 2003, matching falls in smoking and drinking among young people, and, since 2008, record falls in numbers of teen pregnancies.
The number of school-children who have used cannabis has doubled. File photo
The increasing number of clean-living teens in Britain has been associated with the rise of social media and the development of a ‘Facebook generation’ more likely to be exchanging messages from their bedrooms than hanging around on the streets.
Portuguese drug policies were praised in a 2014 Home Office report, inspired by Lib Dem Coalition ministers, which said the country had seen ‘improvement in health outcomes for drug users’.
In 2012 the Commons home affairs select committee, then led by recently-disgraced MP Keith Vaz, said it was ‘impressed’ by Portuguese policies and that the country had ‘a model that merits significantly closer consideration’ in this country.
Even last week Mr Clegg was praising the Portuguese example, saying that ‘there have been dramatic reductions in addiction, HIV infections and drug-related deaths. In other words, you don’t need criminal penalties in order to intervene and change people’s drug habits’.
Cannabis has been assessed as increasingly dangerous in recent years as stronger variants of the drug, such as ‘skunk’, have become more widely available.
Cannabis use is also increasingly associated with violent crime.
And an inquiry by Manchester University published in May found that nearly a third of the children and young people who commit suicide have been taking illegal drugs.