Portugal Exports Medical Cannabis but Locals Miss Out

Liz Filmer
15 Jun 2024

In 2023, Portugal exported 11 tonnes of cannabis but only 17 kg were sold within its countries' borders. Portuguese patients are still being forced to buy via the black market despite the legal status of the plant.

In 2018 medical cannabis was approved in Portugal and it was regulated in 2019. Portugal was the first country in the world to decriminalise all drugs for recreational use in 2001. 

While many big pharma and agriculture businesses made a beeline for the country after the legalisation of medical cannabis, access to plant-based medicines is still significantly restricted for Portuguese citizens.

Only 17 kg of medicinal cannabis was distributed to Portuguese patients in 2023 whereas 11 tonnes of medical cannabis was exported from Portugal by the 40-plus companies that have set up in the country.

Portugal is still a very small market compared to countries like Germany and whilst experts have commented that it is disappointing that the access isn't there yet for the medical patients, it is hoped that this will change for the better.

The problem in Portugal is similar to that here in the UK and is that the doctors just don't have enough knowledge about cannabis yet and it's still very new to them.

“The first reason that cannabis is not favoured in Portugal is because doctors don't have too many drug options to prescribe. The second is that there aren’t different compositions or administration methods available, and the third reason might be the stereotype linked to cannabis,” -Carla Dias, president of the Portuguese observatory for cannabis, speaking to Euronews Health

Currently, Portugal is the second biggest producer of cannabis in the EU. 
This year, Portuguese authorities reported domestic production of 34 tonnes of medical cannabis. This was only slightly behind Spain who produced 36 tonnes.

Experts believe that Portugal has the potential to follow countries like Germany, where pharmacies are permitted to sell cannabis based medicines, cannabis flower and extracts on prescription..

Another difficulty that exists in the EU is the lack of cohesion when it comes to medical cannabis. Traditional medicines can be sold in multiple countries if it has been approved in one. 

Cannabis however does not fit with this model. This February, the European Commission recorded a citizen initiative that is looking to make access to medicinal cannabis easier for everyone.

The petition needs to receive at least one million signatures in a minimum of seven member states within six months before it will be considered by the Commission.

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Liz Filmer