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Arriving in his small office in Lisbon, the year-old tosses his jacket aside, leaving his shirt collar crooked. He looks a little tired from the many trips he's taken lately -- the world wants to know exactly how the experiment in Portugal is going.
He adds his latest piece of mail to the mountain of papers on his desk. One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion.
MDMA -- the active ingredient in ecstasy -- and amphetamines -- including speed and meth -- can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram.
That's roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.
Portugal paved a new path when it decided to decriminalize drugs of all kinds. Why set the limits on these drugs at 10 days' worth of use, though? Now the head of Portugal's national anti-drug program and an important figure in Portuguese health policy, he still talks like an easygoing family doctor.
How can a government keep its citizens from taking dangerous drugs?
One way is to crack down on those who provide the drugs -- the cartels, the middle men and the street dealers. Another approach is to focus on the customers -- arresting them, trying them and imprisoning them. Legal prosecution -- as both a control mechanism and a deterrent -- is the chosen approach for most governments.
Pinto Coelho wants his country to return to normalcy, in the form of the tough war on drugs that much of the rest of the world conducts. Pinto Coelho is a doctor too. He has run rehab centers and written books about addiction. Now he's at odds with former colleagues and with "the system," as he says.
His greatest concern is that his country has given up on the idea of a drug-free world. How, Pinto Coelho asks, is it possible to keep young people away from drugs, when everyone knows exactly how many pills can legally be carried around?
He still believes deterrents are the best form of prevention and that cold turkey withdrawal is the best treatment method.
He is also fighting the extensive methadone program Portugal began as part of its drug policy reform, which now provides tens of thousands of heroin addicts with this substitute drug. These days, Pinto Coelho earns his living running diet clinics, but he spends his evenings writing letters and drafting presentations on his country's "absurd drug experiment.The TIME Magazine Archive presents editor's picks of the best covers and articles.
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