16: The Spirit of ’74

Fourteen years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs – from cannabis to crack. This chapter is the story of Dr Joao Goulao, the extraordinary doctor who led this transformation, and how the reforms have worked in practice.

Dr Joao Goulao recalls the lead-up to the 1974 revolution in Portugal:

Joao talks about the political mood under the Salazar dictatorship:

Dr Goulao remembers another moment under the dictatorship:

Dr Goulao says the drug policy reform is the result of the trends set in train in 1974:

Joao talks about the drug use he saw as a doctor on the Algarve:

Joao recalls one of his patients who later died:

He describes this patient further:

He describes his death:

Joao describes the spread of heroin addiction through Portugal prior to the decriminalization:

He describes the war on drugs as a “terroristic” approach:

He says that prohibition is the best way to keep addicts using drugs:

He talks about how all addicts are divided:

He talks about how addicts find it hard to recover under prohibition:

He talks about his new approach:

He talks about his goal as a doctor:

He talks about the new attitudes:

Joao Figuiera is the chief drug cop in Portugal – the equivalent to the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency in the US or the Scotland Yard Drug Squad in the UK. Here he explains what he thought would happen after decriminalization:

Dr Goulao talks about the main effect of decriminalization:

Nuno Capaz runs ones of the centers in Lisbon where drug users go now. He explains how it works here:

Nuno’s advice to a drug user:

Nuno discusses underage drug users:

Nuno explains that the police don’t go looking for drug users any more:

He says it’s difficult to be caught twice:

He talks about the small fines that can still be levied in rare circumstances:

He explains his job is to be non-judgemental:

He talks about treatment for addiction:

Joao Goulao explains that addiction is a symptom of deeper suffering:

Joao explains his goal through treatment:

He explains that addicts want to be part of society:

He talks about the dynamics within the subsidised business addicts can now set up:

He talks about methadone:

Sergio Rodrigues is a former addict who lived through decriminalization. Here he recalls a moment from before drugs were decriminalized:

He talks about how his life has changed:

Joao Figiuera explains what he expected to happen after decriminalization:

Figiuera explains that none of it happened:

He explains the change in how drug users are seen:

He talks about how it used to be:


He compares alcoholism with other addictions:

He talks about how he used to arrest drug users:

He talks about the wider fall in crime as a result of decriminalization:

He talks about how attitudes to the police have changed:

He talks about how they can go after real criminals now:

He talks about the change in results:

He describes himself as very conservative, and talks about these reforms as non-ideological:

He talks about how everyone in Portugal now accepts this new system:

He says he didn’t expect it to work so well:

Joao Goulao talks about the effect on drug dealers:

Joao Goulao talks about legalization:

Antonio Gago, a former patient of Joao Goulao, remembers his words to him:

He talks about how having a doctor like this changes things:

He talks about how Joao didn’t condemn him:

He talks about the real reason he used drugs:


17: The Man in the Well

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