Cannabis in Europe

Legalizing cannabis has been a popular topic as of late, with many jurisdictions changing their laws in the past few years. While most progress has been made in the Americas, Europe might be following suit soon.

In July 2022, high-level ministers from Germany, Luxembourg, and Malta met for their first consultation on cannabis policy. In their joint statement), the three countries note that “the status quo is not a tenable option.” While in the last decades European Union (EU) member states have collectively reduced penalties for cannabis use–related offences, this is the first time they have expressed views in such terms.

Although there were prior unsuccessful attempts to bring this subject up for discussion in national parliaments (such as in 2018 in Belgium and 2015 in Portugal) or through a referendum (like earlier this year in Italy), the most significant turning point happened when Malta approved legislation at the end of 2021 regulating two supply channels for nonmedical cannabis: home cultivation and Cannabis Social Clubs.

Malta isn’t the only European country changing its cannabis laws. Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are all conducting trials or experiments with supplying cannabis.

It is crucial to comprehend the policymaker’s thoughts behind legal “supply architectures.”

In addition to these changes, it is crucial to grasp the different ways policy-makers might choose to legally “supply architectures” (for example: how cannabis will be supplied, by whom and under which conditions). The on-going debate as well as policies already put in place Europe show the many possibilities concerning this matter. As an illustration, Luxembourg is intending to regulate home cultivation meaning that adults are allowed grow cannabis for personal use (no more than four plants), but acquiring it through other means would not be condoned.

In addition to home cultivation, Malta has also regulated Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs). CSCs are nonprofit associations that are allowed to collectively cultivate cannabis for their members only, rather than having individual adult users grow their own. The CSC model—which takes advantage of the long tradition in Europe—is being tested as part of the Swiss cannabis supply pilot trials.

In the Netherlands, an ongoing experiment has further developed the coffeeshop model. Coffeeshops have been permitted to sell cannabis since the 1970s, but retail sales are only tolerated under specific conditions. The experiment introduces a closed chain of cannabis production and distribution to coffeeshops—in an attempt to contain issues around unregulated supply of cannabis to coffeeshops. Finally, Germany might be considering licensed stores for distributing cannabis—though further details are not yet known.

Some policy choices would allow for cannabis to be grown at home or through community-based collectives, while others would create a more commercial landscape with licensed stores selling the product. These contrasting approaches are driven by different policy goals, such as protecting public health or generating government revenue. Assessing which reform is best requires an understanding of these various policy objectives and their likely outcomes.

Not only do policymakers need to carefully consider the implications of legalizing cannabis, but they must also have a plan for evaluation.

Before jurisdictions roll out new policies concerning cannabis legalisation, it would be beneficial for them to first assess possible outcomes in areas such as health, crime and justice, and economics. If there are no robust measurements of baselines taken before the implementation of these new policies, it could be tough to discern the desired–and undesired–effects of the reforms or if they reach their declared objectives.

It is of utmost importance that policymakers take the time to evaluate a policy change before it is implemented, in order to prevent any negative consequences. By building strong data infrastructures and collecting information at an early stage, they will be better equipped to make informed decisions.

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