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Europe is waking and baking*



Photo: Saad Chaudry @ Unsplash

 * “Europe is waking up and rolling”, a pun on the expression “wake and bake”, which in cannabis slang means waking up and using cannabis first thing in the morning.

The past year has seen important developments in cannabis policy in Europe. Discussions about recreational use are getting stronger across Europe and some countries have taken important steps to address and shake up the status quo in drug policy.

In Spain, particularly in Catalonia, the recreational use of cannabis has been tolerated for many years. The Cannabis Social Club (CSC) model is already relatively well established, but not yet regulated. At the national level, last year, various topics were addressed, such as medical cannabis, the economic impact of regulation, cannabis accessibility, and a debate on the regulation of recreational cannabis took place in the Spanish parliament. Three bills were presented for a comprehensive regulation of cannabis by three parties: the Social Democrats of Republican Left of Catalunya, the left party More Country and the democratic socialist electoral alliance United We can. The latter was the most ambitious, but it remains to be seen how Spanish cannabis policies will actually develop in the future, as all the proposed bills have received criticism, not only from the opposition, but also from those in favor of regulation. Many questions remain open, especially those related to the inclusion of civil society and vulnerable groups in the discussion.

Germany also made cannabis headlines in the fall of 2021 after the newly elected coalition of Social Democrats in SPD, Green and FDP Free Democrats have included cannabis regulation in the governance agreement. They are in favor of decriminalization, licensed stores and a ban on advertising. There are many hurdles to overcome before the first gram of cannabis is legally sold for recreational purposes in Germany, but the fact that there is a plan is an important milestone in itself. Perhaps the estimated €4,7 billion in tax revenue a year, calculated by a German economics institute that analyzes the effects of cannabis legalization, helped to persuade the former finance minister and the new chancellor. Germany, by paving the way for a regulated market, may well set an example for other European countries – and create a “domino effect”.

Even before the German coalition announced legalization, the governing coalition in Luxembourg, made up of the Liberal Democrats of the DP, the Socialists LSAP and the Green, also agreed with legalization, but so far has only moved forward with decriminalization: thus, if possession of up to 3 grams of cannabis only results in a fine, there is now tolerance for self-cultivation of up to 4 plants.

Probably the most decisive step towards a regulated recreational cannabis market was taken by the Maltese government. In December of last year, a law had already been passed that decriminalized the possession of 7 grams of cannabis without any criminal or administrative repercussions; allowed the cultivation of up to four plants per household; allowed the establishment of cannabis associations (up to 500 members) providing cannabis and seeds; and also allowed the elimination of criminal records. The year 2022 was crucial for the cannabis reform in Malta, which moved towards full legalization, but while the Maltese approach is socially oriented and non-profit, there are still unresolved issues. 

Public discussions about cannabis reform are becoming the “new normal” in Europe. Any advances towards regulation, however small, are better than the status quo maintained for more than half a century. It is time to replace ignorance with knowledge and take firm steps towards cannabis policies based on social equity, transparency, inclusion, effectiveness and sustainability. 

Maja Kohek is a PhD student in Medical Anthropology and Global Health at the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, and is investigating the long-term controlled ritual use of psychoactive (shamanic) plants in rural Catalonia and its personal and social effects. Maja also researches the impact of long-term exposure to Ayahuasca on public health. She has co-authored numerous articles, journal articles, translations and presentations nationally and internationally. Since 2016, he has collaborated with the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Services (ICEERS) in Spain and is part of ENCOD – The European Coalition for Fair and Effective Drug Policies, a network of non-governmental organizations and European citizens who care about the impact of current international drug policies on the lives of the most affected sectors in Europe and the Global South.

This Opinion article was originally published in Issue #5 of Cannadouro Magazine


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