Plans to legalize cannabis are spreading across Europe, with more and more countries seeking to emulate the progressive steps taken by Canada and some parts of the United States.
The Czech Republic’s national drug coordinator recently announced that cannabis should be treated on par with other psychoactive substances, such as tobacco and alcohol.
However, proposals to liberalize the law – from Germany to the Netherlands – are meeting resistance from the European Union and conservative-minded politicians.
Read more about the plans to legalize cannabis in Europe and find the latest cannabis news of the day with the Hemp.im mobile app.
Benefits of legalizing cannabis
Improving public health, increasing tax revenues, and breaking the taboo around medical cannabis – the advantages of a legal market are numerous, proponents said at last week’s industry event Cannabis Europe in London.
On the other hand, we have the contrary science of critics who say legalization leads to more crime, addiction, and health risks. “We know that a regulated market works,” – Jindřich Vobořil, the national drug coordinator in the Czech Republic, said last Tuesday.
The growing interest in Europe to legalize cannabis
The Czech Republic is one of several European countries that in recent months have announced plans to legalize cannabis as part of new reforms.
Prague announced last year that it was preparing a law legalizing cannabis for adults, the most progressive step forward since possession for personal use was decriminalized in 2010.
Luxembourg has introduced a law allowing residents to grow cannabis for personal use; Malta has authorized private “cannabis clubs”; and Switzerland, a non-EU country, has approved a pilot program for the sale and consumption of cannabis in Zurich.
Even in the Netherlands – where the cultivation and sale of cannabis are technically criminalized, though tolerated – it plans to launch a pilot program to test the legal sale of the drug by the end of this year.
“It’s very important for the Netherlands to take the next and final step,” said Dorien Rookmaker, a member of the Dutch Parliament. “The idea is to legalize the cultivation of cannabis.”
Resistance from the European Union
However, governments are facing resistance at the European Union level. Many countries are struggling to come up with a law that complies with EU law, international drug treaties, and public health concerns.
Although cannabis is permitted for medicinal purposes in many European countries, the region has long taken a conservative approach to recreational cannabis use, and some fear that legalization in one country would have a domino effect on neighboring countries that oppose such measures. Such concerns were expressed a few days ago by Bavaria’s Health Minister.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, told CNBC that it could not comment on specific national discussions, but added that it was following developing developments.
“We are aware of and closely monitoring these developing situations in the member states, especially to understand the impact of changes in cannabis policy. This includes the impact on health, crime, the environment or social aspects,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Challenges to cannabis legalization at the EU Summit
EU regulation requires member states to make the sale of illegal psychoactive substances, including cannabis, “punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties,” but does not block decriminalization for personal use.
Legalization and commercial sales are also incompatible with international treaties, including the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, although countries such as Canada and Uruguay have not faced serious consequences since legalizing cannabis for adults.
Changes to German plans to legalize cannabis
Following negative feedback from the EU, Germany last month scaled back its wide-ranging legalization plans, with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach noting that its initial proposal “failed” and the new proposal must “follow new paths.”
The updated legislation now aims to decriminalize possession of cannabis for personal use and distribution through cannabis clubs. At the same time, a pilot program is to be launched to study cannabis sales and use patterns. The program is to be launched in some cities, and the number of participants taking part will be limited.
Optimistic future prospects
Despite these adversities, supporters are not discouraged and maintain that legalization will improve safety in the industry, help protect youth and combat illegal drug trafficking without harming the general public.
“Many countries see that prohibition-based policies have failed,” said Dirk Heitepriem, deputy chairman of the German Cannabis Business Industry Association. “I’m very, very optimistic and hope that in the long term, we will find a solution, we will define a framework for EU members to legalize cannabis, while others will stay with their position saying ‘no, this is not our fairy tale.”
One potential solution, according to Rookmaker, could be for citizens to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative for legalization. This is a mechanism that allows citizens to propose solutions to the European Commission if they garner a minimum of 1 million votes.
In a survey conducted in 2022, more than half (55%) of people in eight European countries said they were in favor of legalizing cannabis, according to London-based research firm Hanway Associates.
Upcoming changes in Europe
“The legalization of cannabis could be the 101st Citizens’ Initiative,” Rookmaker said, noting that the Commission is currently considering its 100th initiative, which calls for connecting all European capitals with a high-speed rail line. “I think this way we can take a big step forward,” she said.
This gives hope to politicians like Vobořil that discussions on the legalization of cannabis in the EU will gain momentum in the coming months.
“This is necessary. It will eventually happen everywhere. I don’t think it’s stoppable,” Vobořil added.
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