Step towards decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in Europe

Publication of the conclusions of the Council of the European Union with its more progressive approach to drug issues

Towards the legalization of marijuana in Europe

The Council of the European Union shows its most progressive position on drug policy by approving a new human rights-based approach to drugs.

Europe points to a new direction: Drug policies rooted in human rights

In the Council conclusion, Council conclusions on human rights-based approach in drug policies recognizes the right of countries to decriminalize personal possession of drugs and protect the health of their citizens. The Council is the main legislative body in the European Union and its decisions have a direct impact on the policies of its member countries. Its power is what gives magnitude and importance to the news.

The document urges the European Union (EU) member states to developing drug policies that protect and promote human rights, reduce discrimination and stigma, and enable voluntary access to services such as preventionevidence-based programs, risk and harm reduction, early detection and interventions, counseling, treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration for people who use drugs.

Member countries are also invited to jointly assess the impact of coercive sanctions and drug-related criminal justice, especially for marginalized and vulnerable groups.

In short, the Council’s conclusion calls for a new, more realistic and more robust approach to drug policy in Europe, based on data and scientific evidence. The objective is to promote a drug policy that takes into account human rights, based on diversity, equality and inclusion of all citizens, and to promote an effective response by governments.

The work has been driven by the Czech Republic, which led the Council’s Horizontal Working Party on Drugs during its six-month term as President of the European Union. The Council’s conclusion was published on December 8, 2022, and is endorsed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council.

What kind of drugs does the European Union want to regulate?

This conclusion of the European Council does not specify any particular type of drug, marijuana, synthetic drugs, synthetic cannabinoids or any other kind. It is a first step towards forming a joint platform among all European countries to reconsider drug policies.

Obviously, not all drugs are the same, nor do they have the same impact and social reality. On the subject that concerns us, let’s see what the working group on European cannabis regulation has to say.

Cannabis policy in Europe

End the war on drugs and promote policies rooted in human rights.

Currently, each European country has different cannabis laws, which makes no sense. And do not misunderstand the statement: it is fine for each country to be its own sovereign, but there are laws that are unjust because they are not based on scientific data, but on social stigma, thus discriminating against a part of the citizenry, and violating human rights. And that is what the new perspective on drug policy wants to correct. And of all drugs, and this is a personal opinion – based on extensive information and experience in the sector; it seems to me that marijuana is the most unfairly criminalized drug.

European stigma and hypocrisy surrounding cannabis

The European drug policy on cannabis has always been hypocritical, based on arbitrary criteria and outdated scientific data. For many years, this policy was initially based on the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where cannabis and its resin (hashish) was classified in Schedule IV of drugs, at the same level as heroin! Scientifically, at the very least, cannabis is safer than opiates, as there is no risk of death related to its use. But it wasn’t until December 2020 (almost 60 years later!) that this barbarity was amended and marijuana was voted off the drug schedule.

Something is changing in the old continent

On the European continent alone, there is a wide disparity in the regulation of the recreational cannabis market: different laws and penalties, varying degrees of permissiveness, and ridiculous legal THC limits.

In the last year, we have seen how different European countries have changed their laws regarding cannabis: the proposal to regulate recreational cannabis in Germany, legalization of the sale of CBD flowers in France, the increase in the legal THC limit to 1% in the Czech Republic.the Cannabis legalization approved in MaltaLuxembourg is also working its way towards the legalization of non-medical cannabis.

These are just a few examples of major changes that are currently taking place at the European level regarding cannabis. But we have also seen that such attempts at cannabis legalization are failing in bureaucracy, lack of a solid legal framework, and over-regulation.

All this reflects the complexity of the cannabis market in modern timesThe following is true: on the one hand, the possibility of problematic use of cannabis that may entail health risks cannot be ruled out, but the CBD cannabis buds and the CBD hash are in a gray area (having a minimum percentage of THC and not being able to attribute narcotic effects). How do you establish what THC limit is safe? Aren’t other drugs such as alcohol regulated? Who has the right to decide, in an informed manner, what drugs to put in their own body?

    Changes in marijuana legislation in different European countries.

    In recent years, a significant shift in cannabis-related policies has been observed in several European countries, marking a move towards regulation and decriminalization of recreational cannabis use for adults. Some outstanding examples are described below:

    Luxembourg

    As of 2018, Luxembourg legalized the consumption of cannabis for recreational use, allowing adults to have up to four marijuana plants in their home. In addition, the sale of cannabis seeds is authorized without restrictions in terms of quantity or level of THC, the psychoactive component of the plant.

    Malta

    Late last year, Malta took a similar step by legalizing cannabis. The law establishes a possession limit of 7 grams and allows the cultivation of up to four plants at home for personal use. Consumption is also allowed in private non-profit associations, with a maximum of 500 members. However, consumption in public places is prohibited.

    You may be interested in: Legal status of cannabis and CBD in Malta

    Portugal

    In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana and its personal consumption. In addition, the therapeutic use of the plant was authorized.

    You may be interested in: Legal status of cannabis and CBD in Portugal

    Czech Republic

    Although cannabis remains illegal in the Czech Republic, it was no longer considered a crime in 2010. Possession of up to 10 grams or five plants is not punishable, as long as it is for personal use.

    You may be interested in: Legal status of cannabis and CBD in Czech Republic

    Netherlands

    The Netherlands has adopted a unique policy that allows consumption in government-licensed Coffee Shops. In addition, the sale in stores and possession of up to 5 grams is authorized. The legislation also allows the cultivation of up to 5 plants without legal consequences, as long as it is for personal use. The therapeutic use of cannabis is completely legal in this country.

    These changes in cannabis policies in Europe reflect a trend towards greater tolerance towards the regulation of cannabis use and legalization, whether for recreational or therapeutic use. Each country has adopted different approaches in this regard, seeking a balance between individual freedom and public health protection.

    You may be interested in: Cannabis landscape in the Netherlands: Interview with an expert

    Proposal for the regulation of recreational cannabis in Europe

    What is the decriminalization of cannabis?

    Cannabis decriminalization refers to legislative changes around minor, personal and non-violent cannabis-related activities. In other words, when a person obtains a particular substance for personal consumption and/or possession purposes, he/she should not face criminal or legal repercussions. This is what defines drug decriminalization as we know it today.

    In this regard, the Council’s conclusion states: “…. Under the United Nations drug control conventions, States may consider alternative non-custodial measures for persons accused of minor non-violent drug-related offences, and may provide, in accordance with national constitutional, legal and administrative systems, alternatives or additional measures to conviction or punishment.“.

    On the decriminalization of marijuana in Europe

    Cannactiva, CBD store, has had exclusive access to the working material of the drug group on cannabis presented at the Council of the European Union. This report presents significant policy challenges for the enforcement of international and European cannabis-related legislation, outlining the need to decriminalize and regulate the use of non-medical cannabis.

    The document, prepared by Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli an independent researcher specialized in cannabis based in Barcelona, associated with the Cannabis Hub; and with the collaboration of Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy, shows an interesting analysis of the criminalization of cannabis possession in different European countries.

    In Europe, we find very repressive systems, with de facto decriminalizations. The policies adopted by France and the Netherlands are good examples. In France, police authorities are free to divert (or not) to criminal prosecution upon detection of possession of small amounts of marijuana. For their part, the Dutch may “practice decriminalization” (or not): the law provides for a criminal component, but in practice there may be no punishment. In both cases, criminalization is always possible.

    Examples of somewhat less repressive countries are also shown: Spain as an example of sanctions subject to police discretion, Portugal and the Czech Republic with administrative and sanctioning discretion, and Poland with discretion in the penal system. In many of these cases, the criminalization of personal possession of cannabis will be maintained.

    11 ways to regulate cannabis in the European Union

    The internal working document on cannabis to which Cannactiva has had access highlights the lack of effective policy initiatives on the matter, and reviews 11 options for implementing a drug policy within the international and European legal framework, some more recommendable than others.

    In his analysis, expert Riboulet-Zemouli assesses two safe drug policy options that could be safely implemented, but also exposes bad ideas, showing how some policies can have even perverse consequences on people.

    Ultimately, each country will decide its own cannabis policies and will take into account that any restrictions imposed must be justified and non-discriminatory.

    Marijuana legality in Europe and its regulation: What will be the next step?

    The publication of the conclusion of the Council of the European Union is welcomed by many as extremely promising news that foresees improvements in the approach to issues such as drug abuse or controlled access to certain substances, and is expected to serve as a basis for fostering a platform for legal marijuana drug policy reform.

    Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, international drug policy researcher and lead author of the report on cannabis presented to the Council of the European Union, also an activist with a decade at the UN, has shown his enthusiasm for this European stance to put reforms in place for the modernization of drug policy needed in the old continent.

    Information on Drug Policy in Europe (Frequently Asked Questions)

    What does drug decriminalization mean?

    The term drug decriminalization refers to changes in national laws on the use and possession of drugs, as well as related preparatory activities, always to the extent that they are strictly necessary for personal use and possession.

    What are the differences between decriminalization and decriminalization?

    Decriminalization is synonymous with decriminalization.

    What does the legalization of marijuana refer to?

    Marijuana legalization refers to the modification of national laws on the use and possession of cannabis, as well as those regulating the cultivation, processing, transport, trade, import, export and sale of cannabis.

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    Isidre Carballido
    Founder & CEO at Cannactiva | Cannabis Expert

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