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Cannabis in Europe

The cannabis sector, also known as the ‘green wave’, is flourishing in Europe with policy changes surrounding both medicinal and recreational use. BSDA predicts that global cannabis sales will jump by 22 percent in 2022 and reach over $61 billion within 4 years.

In short, cannabis legalisation- both recreational and medical- could play a vital role in aiding Europe’s economy recover post pandemic. Here is the state of play for recreational cannabis Across Europe as it stands in 2022:

United Kingdom

Khan’s London decriminalisation pilot 

If successful, a new scheme set to start in early 2022 could decriminalize cannabis possession in London boroughs. The plan is that instead of being arrested, those caught with small amounts of the drug would be offered courses and counselling. This has potential to reduce first-time crimes and reoffending incidents if done correctly. If UCL researchers want this partnership with the London Drugs Commission to be successful, they need to take into account racial prejudices and discrimination that negatively affect MET police operations. This is a big step towards decriminalizing recreational cannabis usage in the UK.

 Liz Truss ramifications

Volteface’s Jay Jackson recently wrote about the positions that all of the candidates for Prime Minister from the Tory party have taken on drug policy, including Liz Truss’s stance on cannabis. It is safe to say that Truss’s position is a confusing one. The replacement for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister could definitely change the direction that cannabis legalization takes in the UK in forthcoming years.

Just weeks after Elizabeth Truss became Prime Minister of the UK, she was caught up in a disagreement with Home Secretary Suella Braverman over cannabis reclassification. This follows her previous involvement in rows about Bermuda’s plans to legalise recreational cannabis use. Who knows where this will go next! If you want to hear more about this topic and prospects for drug policy reform under Liz Truss’ government, be sure to listen to our podcast below.


Germany set to legalise recreational cannabis by 2023

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that his coalition partners are committed to legalising and commercialising adult-use recreational cannabis. He stated that their goal is to “clear legal and regulatory hurdles within one to two years”, which is highly ambitious. Such a move would breach both the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the EU’s ruling preventing member states from selling cannabis. Canada is one of several countries that has breached the UN convention by legalising recreational cannabis use. Canada will be launching a four-year trial period during which time cannabis will be distributed via licensed shops. This puts them ahead of the Netherlands, which has not yet legalised recreational cannabis sales. According to Demecan’s von der Groeben, Germany is likely to “see an approval of the new law in 2023”.


Cannabis clubs – echoing the Dutch model

Cannabis clubs in Spain sit in a legal grey area. They are allowed to operate legally as long as they only sell cannabis to members, and cultivation is limited to a small number of plants that cannot be seen from outside. There are about 700 of these clubs across Spain, and many require membership fees or exclusive invitations to join. This system is similar to the Dutch model, where supply and distribution of cannabis remain illegal but consumption is decriminalized.


First European country to approve the legalisation of recreational cannabis

In December 2021, Malta became the first European country to approve the legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis, being inspired by Germany and the Netherlands. It introduced laws that regulate personal use of cannabis, for phenomena such as storing up 50 grams at home or carrying 7 grams outside. Although smoking in public spaces or around children is still illegal.

Nonprofit organizations known as cannabis social clubs can distribute cannabis products to members, similar to those in Spain. It is unclear how these clubs will be structured.

Abela, Malta’s Prime Minister from the Labour Party said that they are working to pass legislation that will reduce the harm associated with black markets. By regulating the sector, people won’t have to turn to illegal options as often.


Legal production and supply of recreational cannabis approved

A bill that would establish the legal production and regulation of cannabis domestically is working its way through approval in Luxembourg. This move comes as a response to several issues related to current import reliance, among them being quality assurance and illicit market conditions. If passed, it’s believed that government-regulated Cannabis sales would result in increased resources for areas such “prevention, education and healthcare,” as well as addiction treatment initiatives.

If you’re looking for a place to grow your own cannabis, Luxembourg might be the place for you. Luxembourgers are allowed to grow up to four plants per household, and public usage is prohibited. Possession of more than three grams in public is considered as intent to supply drugs, as outlined by Justice Minister Sam Tanson. However, trading in seeds will be permitted with no limit on THC quantities. Seeds can be bought online, imported, or in-store.


Amsterdam’s Mayor Femke seeks to ban ‘cannatourism’ – but council disagrees.

Although cannabis is decriminalized in the Netherlands, it remains illegal. The existing legislation allows coffee shops to sell small amounts of cannabis for personal use, and though growing up to 5 plants at home is technically against the law, police have chosen to decriminalize this activity. As in Malta, Luxembourg, and Spain, public usage is not allowed. Usually, coffee shop owners obtain their products from cartels operating within the black market. Dutch punk rock band Heideroosjes sums it up perfectly with their lyrics: “A coffee shop can sell weed / But where it comes from, don’t ask how.”

Perhaps most surprising is Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema’s stance against ‘cannatourism.’ “What we do not welcome are people who come here on a vacation from morality,” says Halsema. She has asked city councils to ban coffee shops from selling to tourists in an attempt to placate locals who have complained about the influx of tourists and their disruptive behavior.

Despite pushback from both tourists and locals, Amsterdam’s Mayor Femke Halsema still plans to go ahead with proposed changes that include a resident criterion and phased start to local regulation. One of the most controversial aspects is the ‘coffee shop quality mark’, which would place focus on curbing their supply and distribution chains. These are sensible proposals; without major changes, we predict significant cash flow problems and closures for many establishments.

Femke’s proposal is reminiscent of similar requests in 2012 that were rejected. Eberhard van der Laan, Amsterdam’s mayor at the time, stated that if they allowed unregulated selling of drugs it “would lead to more robberies, quarrels about fake drugs, and no control of the quality of drugs on the market – everything we have worked towards would be lost to misery”.

These plans have recently been voted against by the city council of Amsterdam, and are unlikely to be enacted any time soon.

 Experimenting with recreational legalisation

At the moment, only using cannabis is decriminalized but not possessing it. Though this doesn’t make sense, some countries are starting to allow regulated access to recreational cannabis. In The Netherlands and Switzerland, there are pilot projects underway that would permit the legal production and sale of marijuana in coffee shops within 10 municipalities. This experiment has been postponed until 2023, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. In 2017, the government made a pact that included experimenting with coffee shops regulated to cultivate and sell cannabis. The objective is to study if it’s possible to provide a quality-controlled supply of cannabis while also measuring any impacts on crime rates, safety issues, public disturbance, and health problems.


Landmark decriminalisation bill introduced

A decriminalisation bill for cannabis was sent to the Chamber of Deputies in June and is expected to appear before the Senate in September. The proposed changes include: reducing prison sentences for small-scale cannabis distribution, penalties decided on an individual basis, permitting home-grown cannabis plants for personal use, and more.

Following a failed attempt to legalize cannabis in February, where individuals argued that courts had suppressed democracy after 630,000 people signed a petition, researchers looked further into the self-medication hypothesis. A study spanning over two years was conducted on 106 Italian provinces which showed substitution effects were substantial. The substitution effect occurs when the price of a good changes and, as a result, consumer demand for that good also shifts. This change was strongly noted in a study between cannabis-based products and prescription drugs; specifically, there was a decrease in the use of anxiety-, sleep-, and pain-reducing medications, as well as antidepressants and antipsychotics.


Recreational trials to start in Basel – a shift towards legalisation

The University of Geneva calculated that based on the demand for cannabis in Switzerland, the annual revenue from importing and selling recreational cannabis could be 582 million CHF (€594.35m). Another study done in 2020 valued the market at $520 million (€508.54m).

A new pilot project in Basel, Switzerland seeks to explore the regulated sale of cannabis at local pharmacies- similar to what is done in the Netherlands. The Federal Office for Public Health has partnered with the University of Basel to conduct this trial, which would serve the 220,000 regular Swiss cannabis consumers. This scheme could be expanded across Zurich, Geneva, and Bern if their respective local authorities approve and roll out Similar trials. If all goes according to plan, September 2022 will see 400 adults participating in this program at select pharmacies aroundBasel.


Folketinget: Copenhagen’s 5-year recreational cannabis pilot scheme

If the City of Copenhagen’s proposal goes through, a 5-year pilot scheme will be put in place where legal cannabis sales happen at specific state-controlled locations like pharmacies. This would only apply to adult residents who live in Copenhagen municipalities. The Danish government is considering a bill that would legalize cannabis for personal use, according to GCI. This would be a novel and landmark move in Scandinavia. The main reason the government is considering this trial system is due to the steady increase in cannabis consumption despite it being illegal: “Statistics indicate that in 2020, 41% of young people had smoked cannabis, with consumption among 16-44 year olds doubling since the mid-1990s”.

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