Nowhere on Earth is as exciting from a cannabis policy modernization standpoint right now as the European continent, where several nations are working to modernize their cannabis policies and launch, or expand, regulated cannabis industries.
Europe is already home to two nations that have passed national adult-use reform measures. Malta became the first European nation to do so in late 2021, and Luxembourg became the second nation in Europe to pass such a measure when lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year. The only other nations on Earth that have passed national adult-use measures are Uruguay (2013) and Canada (2018).
Cannabis is the most popular illegal substance in Europe among consumers, which is also true of every other continent. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) estimates that roughly 8% of adults in European Union member nations have consumed cannabis at least one time in the last year.
At least 1.3% of the European Union’s adult population, nearly 4 million people, report consuming cannabis on a daily basis. It’s quite likely that the true figure is considerably greater, being that many people do not feel comfortable admitting to being a cannabis consumer to government officials conducting surveys when cannabis is prohibited.
Europe is home to unique public policy approaches to cannabis regulation. A great example of that can be found in Switzerland where limited regional adult-use cannabis pilot programs are up and running. Such programs permit localized cannabis commerce to help lawmakers and regulators gather data to be better suited to craft national policies.
Switzerland may be the most associated with pilot programs right now, however, that designation is likely to be conceded to Germany in the coming years. Lawmakers in Germany are working to pass a national adult-use measure that would, among other things, permit regional pilot programs. When that happens, Germany’s pilot programs will likely become far more common, and larger in size, compared to what is found in Switzerland.
To best understand the current status of cannabis policies in Europe one needs to look no further than Germany and to a lesser extent Malta. The world is learning in real-time, through Germany’s legalization efforts, what is permitted at a national level in Germany according to the European Union, and what requires further continental reform.
Policymakers in Germany set out in 2021 to pass a robust national legalization measure, somewhat similar to the model that Canada has implemented. Unfortunately, via ongoing discussions with the European Union, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach was informed that national sales run afoul of continental agreements.
The European continental cannabis policy debate is largely one of semantics. Legalizing cannabis to boost economies is not permitted in Europe. However, modernizing cannabis policies for research purposes, including public policy research purposes, is permitted. So is modernizing cannabis policies to boost public health outcomes, and it’s within those parameters that European lawmakers are allowed to operate.
This is why medical cannabis is permitted across Europe, and why Malta and Luxembourg are permitted to end cannabis prohibition as it pertains to individuals (cultivation, possession, and consumption). For Malta specifically, it’s why noncommercial cannabis clubs are allowed to be licensed there. That level of national legalization is allowed under EU law, and more nations should pursue such reform.
Yet, just because current EU policy prohibits national cannabis regulation models from mimicking Canada doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. Germany is leading a coalition of European governments that wish to change continental agreements to remove adult-use restrictions. Advocates in many European nations, particularly in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, are working to get their nations’ leaders on the right side of history. When Germany legalizes, it will likely usher in a wave of similar activity across the continent.
It’s unclear how long it will take for continental reform to be achieved in Europe, however, every country that modernizes its policies to permit sales, and sees its legal sales succeeding, will add to the momentum for larger reform. Just as legal adult-use commerce is winning in the Western Hemisphere, the same will be true on the other side of the ocean once the legal industry is given a proper chance.
This article first appeared at TheTalmanGroup.com and is syndicated with special permission