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    General situation

    Portugal has one of the most progressive drug policies in the world. After passing a law decriminalizing the use and personal possession of drugs in November 2000 (Law 30/2000 , which entered into force on July 1, 2001), Portugal’s drug policies entered into the spotlight, attracting both criticism and support at the international level. Decriminalization notwithstanding, possession of anything more than a small amount (a 10 days’ supply) of any drug and any involvement in drug trafficking is still illegal and can incur a sentence of one to 15 years imprisonment.

    Quantities of substances, user intent, context, and personal history all play a factor in the determination of the severity of criminal charges. That said, there is still a “grey area” where if substance quantity limits are only slightly surpassed, the user is not directly and immediately considered a criminal – there is still an assessment that can lead to therapeutic measures instead of criminal charges.

    While ayahuasca is not specifically forbidden in Portugal, DMT is forbidden under Portugal’s national drug law, Decree Law 15/93 (see below).

    There is a moderate presence of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions Santo Daime and the UDV in Portugal and numerous informal organizations operating with different modalities of ayahuasca use. A Santo Daime group has existed in Portugal since July 2001. The UDV has held ceremonies in Portugal since at least 2003, with more than 255 UDV-branch ceremonies recorded in Portugal from 2003 to 2013.

    The UDV attempted to gain recognition as a Religious Collective in Portugal but was denied 3 times by the Portuguese Religious Liberty Commission (CLR). In 2014, a branch of Santo Daime in Portugal, the Céu do Cruzeiro de Luz, created the association Comunidade Daimista de Portugal (CDP). This association, in addition to its ecological objectives, aims for recognition as a formal religious institution in Portugal, however the Portuguese government has denied the CDP a few times, including in 2012. Currently, the CDP is funding a study that aims to identify and document the amount of DMT present in Daime, their sacramental drink, and has promoted lectures in the the scientific and academic community clarifying the difference between DMT and Daime.

    To our knowledge there has been only one arrest specifically involving ayahuasca in Portugal when, in 2011, the police seized about 30 liters of ayahuasca from a member of a Santo Daime group other than the CDP near Lisbon. However, criminal charges against the defendant were ultimately dropped and the case never reached court.

    Because of low-friction inflows of culture from the Brazilian Amazon due to a shared language and progressive drug policies, it appears that Portugal is a significant destination for ayahuasca in Europe. However, anyone considering drinking ayahuasca in Portugal should first be aware of the risks and the reality of the law. Despite Portugal’s progressive drug policy, DMT is still regulated under Portugal’s national drug law – although the way the law might be interpreted depends on the judge’s view of the subject and there is some room for ambivalence regarding whether traditional plant mixtures would be considered illegal.

    International law

    The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) subjects several psychoactive compounds contained in plant species to international control. DMT (N,N-dimetyltryptamine, a tryptamine alkaloid contained in Psychotria viridis and other plants generally used in the preparation of ayahuasca) is a Schedule I controlled substance in the Convention. However, according to the International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) Report for 2010 (par. 284) ‘no plants are currently controlled under that Convention […]. Preparations (e.g. decoctions for oral use) made from plants containing those active ingredients are also not under international control’.

    There is no general consensus among judges and law enforcement officials on whether ayahuasca is illegal because it contains DMT, or not. It is up to national governments to make the final decision in their own jurisdictions on whether to impose controls on these plants and preparations, including ayahuasca.

    National drug legislation

    DMT is illegal in Portugal under the Decree Law 15/93, where DMT is listed in Table II-A. In April 2013, Portugal passed Decree Law 54/2013, which prohibits the production, export, advertisement, distribution, sale, or dispensing of listed new psychoactive substances (NPS). Violating Decree Law 54/2013 with a new psychoactive substance carries fines of up to EUR 45,000, while violating Decree Law 15/93  with DMT can carry a sentence of one to 15 years in prison, depending on specific criteria.

    Portugal’s progressive Law 30/2000 (entering into force as Decree Law 183/2001) decriminalized drug use and related acts. The objective of the law was the creation of programs and socio-sanitary structures with the aim of educating the population and directing people with substance use problems towards treatment – rather than punishment—and the reduction of risk and harms caused by drug addiction.

    However, the decriminalization does not mean that drug use has no consequences. Rather, a person caught in possession of a small quantity of drugs for personal use, where there is no suspicion of involvement in trafficking, will be evaluated be a local Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction composed of a lawyer, a doctor, and a social worker, exploring the need for treatment, promoting a healthy recovery, and implementing punitive sanctions when needed, depending on the need to prevent further consumption of drugs and psychotropic substances.

    Someone in possession of ayahuasca (which contains DMT, a listed substance) may violate Portuguese drug laws if the DMT contained within the ayahuasca is enough to qualify as non-personal use; if the ayahuasca was imported into Portugal from another country; or if the ayahuasca was intended for distribution, such as in an ayahuasca ceremony.

    The legal status of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions under Portugal’s religious freedom law (Law 16 of 2001) is subject to differing interpretations. Art. 37 of the law lays out the conditions for official recognition of churches and religious communities and art. 6 of the law states that freedom of religion does not authorize the practice of crimes. While there is no specific law governing the use of ayahuasca as a sacrament in Portugal, such use is subject to interpretation on how to articulate articles 6 and 37 in Law 16 of 2001.


    While both the Santo Daime and the UDV have been working towards official governmental recognition in Portugal for more than a decade, there have been few official court cases relating to ayahuasca.

    The UDV

    In 2011, the UDV attempted to gain recognition as a Religious Collective in Portugal but was denied by the Portuguese Religious Liberty Commission (CLR). That is, even if the CRL has a neutral position in the analysis of what a religion can or can not be considered in the country, according to CLR lawyer André Folque (in a conference communication), “religious freedom cannot be a great umbrella for all kinds of spiritual societies, for health care alternatives for magic or sorcery.”

    Santo Daime

    A branch of the Santo Daime, Céu de Cruzeiro de Luz, has been fighting for recognition as a formal religious institution in Portugal for many years. In 2004, the church applied for recognition in the RNPC National Registry of Collective – Religious, Non-Catholic Persons. After years of waiting, it gained the status of a civil association – though not an official religion. In 2011, the church applied for recognition as a religion as well as for authorization to use its sacrament in its ceremonies, but was denied. However, according to our sources within the church, it remains active in its efforts to gain recognition, and is currently working with leading Portuguese scholars and scientists to build its case for recognition and legalization of its sacrament.

    Santo Daime Member Arrested (2011)

    In 2011, Portuguese police arrested a 60-year-old man and member of the Santo Daime in an operation in Cascais. About 30 liters of ayahuasca were seized. He was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, but released after less than 24 hours in police custody and the case never went to court. Under the framework of decriminalization, he was considered to be substance-dependent in need of help rather than a distributor or dealer in need of punishment, and criminal charges against him were ultimately dropped by the prosecutor on grounds of insufficient evidence that the substance was meant for any use other than personal. Instead, the man received a fine. The brew was seized for testing and destruction. As stated in the decision (Process 350/11.0JELSB, DIAP of Ministério Público in Lisbon), a laboratory test of the ayahuasca was unsuccessful in determining the percentage of DMT it contained.

    Earth Connection Controversy

    In November of 2016, the Portuguese GNR (police) raided the home of the leaders of Earth Connection, an ayahuasca retreat center in Portugal. A controversy ensued in which various parties took to the internet in campaigns to discredit others and undermine the sanctity of the ayahuasca movement in Portugal. Any information encountered about these controversies should be read with a critical eye.

    Updated: February 2018

    Categories: Countries
    Tags: legality , ayahuasca , map , Portugal