The Battle to Legalize Weed in Europe
The momentum for legalizing cannabis is building up throughout Europe. There is now an increasing number of countries looking to follow in the footsteps of Canada and some parts of the U.S. by approving cannabis use.
During the Cannabis Europa industry event in London last week, advocates highlighted the numerous benefits of legalizing cannabis. The merits include generating tax revenues, improving public health, and reducing the stigma surrounding medical cannabis.
However, there has been persistent opposition from critics who contend that legalization leads to addiction, increased crime, and health risks. Nonetheless, Jindřich Vobořil, the national drug coordinator of the Czech Republic, stated that a regulated market is the most effective approach.
According to Vobořil, it is long overdue for cannabis to be regulated similarly to other items that fall under his purview, such as tobacco and alcohol. He also added that prohibition is ineffective, citing examples of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling as evidence.
A Growing Support Vote
In the past few months, around half a dozen European countries, including the Czech Republic, have unveiled plans for radical new reforms to legalize cannabis.
Last year, Prague announced that it was preparing a bill to legalize the drug for adult consumption. This would be the country’s most significant advancement since decriminalizing personal possession in 2010.
In October, Germany unveiled proposals to legalize the use and sale of cannabis, making it the world’s largest regulated national marijuana market if the plan is approved. The Czech Republic and several other European countries subsequently followed this move.
In other parts of Europe, Luxembourg has enacted a law permitting individuals to grow cannabis for personal consumption. Malta has authorized private “cannabis clubs,” and Switzerland, a non-EU member, has approved a Zurich-based trial for the sale and consumption of cannabis.
Presently in the Netherlands, cultivation and sale of cannabis are illegal but tolerated. As a positive step forward, the government is launching a pilot program by the end of the year to evaluate the legal sale of cannabis.
Dutch member of the European Parliament Dorien Rookmaker stressed the need to take the following and final step. She said that it is essential to legalize cannabis farming in the nation.
Despite their efforts, governments are encountering resistance at the European Union level. These countries are finding it difficult to create legislation that conforms to EU regulations, public health concerns, and international drug agreements.
Even though some European countries are now permitting the use and sale of cannabis for medical reasons, the continent has historically banned the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Many are concerned that if one government legalizes cannabis, it will impact member states against legalizing adult-use cannabis.
The executive arm of the European Union, the European Commission, declined to comment when questioned about particular national talks. The commission did say, though, that it closely observes the situation.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson stated that they are aware of and closely monitoring the developments in Member States. The commission is focused on assessing the effects of changes in cannabis policies, including their impact on health, the environment, crime, and social aspects.
Following the European Union’s regulations, every member state must enforce harsh and stringent criminal penalties for the sale of illicit drugs, cannabis inclusive. However, the regulation did not expressly state that adult-use cannabis should be prohibited.
The commercial sale of cannabis is a deterrent with international agreements like the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. However, countries like Uruguay and Canada that have floated such agreements are yet to face any backlash from the European Union on cannabis sales.
Following feedback from the EU, Germany recently revised its comprehensive cannabis legalization plan. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach admitted that his original proposal had “failed” and that the new version would have to “explore new avenues.”
The revised legislation now seeks to permit private consumption and distribution through non-profit organizations and explore the possibility of a trial program to evaluate the sale of cannabis through a limited number of licensed stores.
Cannabis Legalization is Unstoppable.
Despite these setbacks, supporters of cannabis legalization remain undeterred. They believe legalizing the drug will lead to more robust safeguards within the industry, improved youth protection, and reduced illicit drug trafficking without harming the broader EU.
Dirk Heitepriem, the deputy chairman of the German Cannabis Business Industry Association, expressed optimism, saying that many countries have realized that prohibition policies have not worked. He believes that a long-term solution will be found to allow EU members to legalize cannabis while respecting the position of those who oppose it. He added that he’s very optimistic that a framework for this will be established.
According to Rookmaker, a potential approach would be for the public to initiate a European Citizens’ Initiative supporting legalization. This mechanism enables citizens to suggest EU policies to the commission, provided they gather a minimum of 1 million votes.
According to a study by London-based strategic consultancy Hanway Associates in 2022, over half (55%) of individuals in eight European countries have expressed their support for legalizing cannabis.
Rookmaker suggested that the legalization of cannabis could be proposed as the 101st Citizens Initiative. The commission is currently reviewing its 100th initiative that seeks to connect all European capitals through high-speed railway lines. This way, she believes they can take a significant step forward.
Vobořil, like many other policymakers, is hopeful that the discussions around legalizing cannabis in the EU will continue to expand in the upcoming months. Vobořil stated that it’s necessary and will eventually happen everywhere. I don’t believe it can be prevented.
Advocates of cannabis legalization are optimistic that the EU will eventually take a more progressive attitude as more European nations move toward legalizing cannabis for adult usage. While there are still obstacles to be solved, like compliance with international agreements and EU legislation, proponents contend that legalizing them might result in advantages like better regulation and juvenile protection.
A European Citizens’ Initiative to legalize cannabis may also be established, offering Europeans a chance to express their support for the reform. The movement favouring legalizing marijuana in Europe appears unlikely to slow down soon, with public opinion on the upswing and authorities displaying signs of receptivity to the notion.
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