Portugal Grows Medical Cannabis, But Not for Locals

Stephen Andrews
15 Jun 2024

Tons of medical cannabis are cultivated in Portugal every year, but very little of it finds its way to domestic consumers. That creates a situation where many medical cannabis patients must turn to illegal cannabis dealers to source their medicine. Lack of access and poor diversity of legal medical products are some of the biggest challenges local cannabis patients face in Portugal.

Portugal became the first country in the world back in 2001 to decriminalize the recreational use of drugs, cannabis included. In line with the Portuguese legislation, the possession of small amounts of any drug for personal use is written as a civil offense instead of criminal act. 

In 2018, the country’s lawmakers approved medical cannabis, making cannabis-based drugs legal for medicinal treatments. But even though Portugal has made bold steps in regards to its drug policies, medical cannabis remains out of reach for many of the patients who may benefit from it. 

The problem is certainly not production. The sunny weather paired with good legislation has attracted a good number of foreign investors to the country. Last year, in 2023, Portugal medical cannabis exports reportedly topped more than 12 tons, but only 37 pounds of cannabis were home purchases. 

Neither is distribution a problem. There are at least 100 physical cannabis shops in Portugal, of which around 30 are in the capital of Lisbon. In addition, there are online stores where you can purchase various CBD goods. The issue is access.

Doing Cannabis Business in Portugal is Great, But...

Local medical patients in Portugal right now only have access to two cannabis products. They can purchase Sativex oral spray and Tilray 18% THC cannabis flower. Tilray’s CEO has chosen Portugal as a primary destination in Europe to set up operations there, and they are not alone in that. Since 2019, there are at least 40 other international cannabis operators that have launched business in Portugal. 

Still, the offer remains limited, and it’s also pricey to purchase legal medical cannabis in Portugal. A package of 15 grams reportedly costs €150 (US$162). Tilray sold a little over a thousand of those packages to Portuguese customers in 2023. The prices may be inconvenient for many medical users in Portugal, where the average monthly income is somewhere around €2,741 (roughly $2970), and a single person monthly costs move around €670 (roughly $720) not counting rent and utility expenses. 

If more international operators begin to offer their product to the local Portuguese market, that may subsequently stabilize the high prices for medical weed. But with the current cost, allowing yourself legal cannabis medicine in Portugal might be a little luxury. Especially after knowing that you can find it for a much cheaper deal on the black market. 

In addition, there’s always the specific list of qualifying conditions for which patients can be prescribed medicinal cannabis.

The list of the medical indications for cannabis in Portugal includes:

1. Multiple sclerosis
2. Chemotherapy-related symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
3. Lack of appetite in patients undergoing palliative care or chemo
4. Chronic pain
5. Tourette syndrome
6. Epilepsy
7. Glaucoma

Medical cannabis can be prescribed to patients in those seven categories only when conventional medicines fail to help and treat the health problem. 

While Portuguese patients only have access to Tilray flower, the country's other 40 or so companies are shipping tons of weed to other countries all over the world. The exports not only include flower but also a diverse set of other products such as oils, gels, capsules, edibles and more. 

Portugal has the perfect geographic position in Europe for cultivating marijuana, so it’s understandable why it’s such an attractive destination for cannabis investors. There are many sunny days year-round and the weather is similar as in California. 

It’s not a surprise to learn that Portugal currently holds the second position in most cannabis production at the EU level, trailing behind only after Spain. And it’s a relatively small country compared to other European countries such as Spain, France or Germany. 

While Portugal’s regulators are greatly focused on product safety and quality, they do need to address the lack of access problem sooner rather than later. Establishing a new legal framework can be helpful in that regard and ultimately ease access to cannabis-based medicines for thousands of medical patients in Portugal. 

Also read on Soft Secrets:

Slovenian Voters Approve Medical Cannabis on Referendum

Market Correction in Canada is Already Happening

Cannabis Company Tilray Pivots to Beer

Stephen Andrews