Former Health Director Francisco George has said that the State “cannot ignore” problems related to cannabis trafficking, while reiterating that the regulation of its sale would be positive for consumers and only negative for traffickers and dealers.

In an interview with Lusa at the headquarters of the Portuguese Red Cross (CVP), institution he has chaired since October 2017, Francisco George explains why he has signed an open letter to parliament, signed recently by more than 60 personalities, which defends the regulation of cannabis and proposes that legislation define the minimum age for consumption, rules for cultivation and production, and to create a special tax

"The measures proposed by this group are good for public health, they are good for the health of each consumer and are bad for traffickers", said the medical specialist in public health, who left the position of Director General of Health in 2017, after 12 years at the command of the General Directorate of Health (DGS).

But the proposals do not aim for free trade of this substance, says Francisco George, at a time when the legalisation of cannabis is under discussion in the parliamentary health commission, with bills presented by the Left Bloc and by the Liberal Initiative.

The proposals are towards the “legalisation of commerce, controlled commerce and regulated commerce of cannabis, to prevent consumption from starting in illegal acquisition”, argues Francisco George.

Data from a study on addictive behaviours at age 18 by the Intervention Service in Addictive Behaviours and Addictions (SICAD) show a gradual increase in recent cannabis use by young people, which stood at 22.6 percent in 2015, a figure that has risen to 23.8 percent during the following year, to 25.3 percent in 2017 and to 26.7 percent in 2018.

In the general population, the last national survey of psychoactive substance use by SICAD, carried out in 2016/17, indicated that one in ten Portuguese people had already used cannabis at least once in their life, with almost half a million using this drug habitually.

In an interview at Palácio Conde d'Óbidos, CVP headquarters, Francisco George also warns of the increased danger of these substances in terms of “euphoric effects, of the psychotropic drugs they contain”, stressing that “the State cannot ignore that this problem exists”.

For the former director-general of Health, who was succeeded by Graça Freitas, legalisation "only harms the traffickers".

Moreover, he stresses, "it is good for all Portuguese", even in terms of public health, because the amounts collected by the tax authorities, once the activity is taxed, will be channelled towards prevention and public information projects.

“One thing is a quick payment to the dealer. ‘Take €20, give me the substance, which I hope is all right’, and both quickly flee. Another thing is for an attendant to provide the same substance and explain to the consumer that they can look for support services, to explain that they should not abuse it and that they must be of an appropriate age to be able to consume it”, he explains.

Given this reality, Francisco George says that it is not difficult to understand which is “the best equation” when the choice is between “the world of trafficking” or being “in a world based on information, pedagogy and without fear of the supplier”.