European 420 this year is an interesting time on the cannabis front. While there is much to celebrate because reform here is on the march, it is also clear that there is still a long road ahead, almost everywhere, before full and final cannabis reform is the law of any land, much less region. Even on the medical front, patients are still struggling to get access, even in Germany. In other places, the situation is much worse. However, there are some bright spots—and it is clear that legalization is now in process, no matter how slowly.
Here is a brief overview of where the most influential countries stand on the issue—and the challenges yet ahead.
The non-EU country in the middle of Europe is absolutely leading the pack on implementing a federal recreational cannabis trial. Recreational users will be allowed to purchase high THC cannabis at pharmacies. The first orders are now being dispatched to apothekes all over the country. While the trial will be conducted on a canton-by-canton basis (the Swiss equivalent of states), its impact will be felt across Europe. It is very likely that Germany will adopt a plan that is similar to the Swiss. There will also be some form of the “cannabis club” that will take root here. Definitely the leader of the European pack.
The country will certainly be in a position to drive recreational reform when the new government gets around to it (as it has promised to do). However, on the ground right now, as the Traffic Light Coalition downplays the urgency of at least formal decriminalization, things are still pretty dire. Over 200 businesses in the hemp business are facing criminal prosecution. There are also close to 200,000 criminal cases pending against individuals. There is a reason that the Hanf Parade in Berlin is being organized this year, not to mention similar protests across the country. Perhaps there will be something to celebrate on this front as of April next year.
The country is now in the process of creating a national system for the cultivation and distribution of cannabis, although on the slow track (it has been repeatedly delayed and is expected to take effect in 2023). In the meantime, the mayor of Amsterdam is still pushing ahead with her unpopular plan to close down as many as two-thirds of the city’s coffeeshops and ban cannatourists from the remaining ones.
The country has formalized its CBD market recently, and this is a big step in a world where people can still get busted for even CBD flower. However, medical reform is still a far-off dream, as is recreational reform. There is another national medical trial now in the offing for chronic pain, but again, this will be highly limited.
Despite a pending promise to create a recreational market by the beginning of 2023, plans have largely stalled here, in part thanks to COVID as well as the continuing anti-cannabis voices at a regional level. This is not to say that some kind of cannabis market will not be in the offing next year, but don’t hold your breath that this is going to be particularly impactful on the overall debate.
Portugal currently is one of the largest feeder markets for German medical cannabis—either grown domestically or as a passthrough product. Beyond this, the country’s last government promised recreational cannabis reform, but such promises have been decidedly muted since the new government took power earlier this year.
The country’s political leaders are angling to obtain as much foreign investment as possible, and of course, the cannabis industry represents all sorts of possibilities. As of this month, the Greek government finally announced that Greek patients can obtain cannabis from local pharmacies and tourists will be allowed to purchase it from such establishments as long as they have a doctor’s prescription. The country is absolutely on track to create a strong medical cannabis tourist sector—especially as this represents another form of foreign income.
The country beat Luxembourg to the punch on announcing that it had indeed legalized the first recreational market in Europe. However, Malta is an island, far away from mainland Europe, and while this is a great first step, there are clearly other countries who will move the needle a bit more. Users are allowed to carry up to seven grams and store up to 50 grams at home. People can also grow at home and will eventually be able to organize nonprofits to distribute the plant via cannabis associations.
The country is in an interesting place right now. Cannabis clubs are more or less tolerated, but there still has been no federal reform. Things are clearly sticky here still on all fronts, however, as the local police have just proved. They moved in on a farmer drying over $100 million in hemp flowers bound for other European countries and destroyed the crop, citing Spanish law on the extraction of CBD.
In Italy, the situation is in an interesting place. Small amounts of cannabis are essentially decriminalized. Recent court cases have established the legality of cultivating for personal use when patients are severely ill. Beyond this, cannabis for medical use is legal although patients are running into the same issues as Germans when it comes to insurance reimbursement, which is one of the reasons that there is still a large push for reform. The cultivation of hemp with under 0.2% THC is also legal. The legalization effort was set back recently, however, when the high court overturned the right of its citizens to hold a national referendum on full legalization.
The country is currently in the middle of a four-year medical trial, begun in 2018 and ending this year. Cannabis exports are also beginning to show up in other European countries for medical use. There has been a discussion about allowing a recreational trial, but nothing is crystallized yet.
It is highly unlikely that the next four years will see any major movement on the recreational front legislatively, even if the current president, Emmanuel Macron wins a second term in office. The country is in the second year of a highly limited medical trial. The best that can happen here is that the medical program will be expanded. If Macron’s challenger, Marine Le Pen, wins the election, expect France to be on one of the slowest boats forward, as she has suggested reigniting the Drug War. That said, as Europe’s largest hemp producer and the place where the KanaVape case was launched and won (allowing cross border CBD sales), it could be that reform here comes on the CBD front first, and further, via legal challenge.
There are several other European countries who are advancing albeit slowly. Poland’s highest court just overruled the main public health agency, the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate, in allowing hemp flowers as food. The Czech Republic continues to power forward on both the CBD and medical cannabis front. North Macedonia, although not in the EU, continues to try to enter the European market, even exporting cannabis oil through other Eastern European countries, starting with Poland.
Austria is also in an interesting place right now, although not much has moved in the last several years. Possession has been decriminalized and the sale of seeds and plants is legal. However, the country seems to be in a holding pattern before taking the next steps. It is highly likely however that it will follow Switzerland and Germany’s lead as it shares a trading alliance with them.
As the world celebrates “cannabis day” what is the status of real European cannabis reform, and how far has the continent come?
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