EU Marijuana Legalization: A Wave is Coming

Exciting developments lie ahead for European Union (EU) marijuana legalization. It is inevitable that marijuana legalization sweeps the globe–if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch our webinar with Clifford Chance about the existing global economy of marijuana. The question is just one of timing.

In Germany, as one prominent example, we’re looking at legalization for adult use within the next two years. Earlier this month, the country began down the long road of legalization by concluding public hearings with stakeholders, countries that already have legalization, industry experts, and those groups opposed to legalization. The world will likely see a German legalization bill sometime this year. It’s not just Germany though. The stage is being set for a EU marijuana legalization wave.

This is a big deal internationally

The conclusion of these hearings in Germany is a big deal since Germany represents the EU’s largest economy (and the fourth largest worldwide by nominal GDP). Legalization by such an economic powerhouse will undoubtedly spur change across other EU countries. Similar to the U.S. states, it seems that other European nations are mainly waiting on the right legalization roadmap from a given country in order to follow suit.

Based on the hearings to date, it sounds like the German government is hugely concerned with eliminating its illegal market. In the hearings, other nations attested to how these legalization experiments have suffered under the illegal market. The answer for Germany then is likely that it needs to create better access to marijuana through adequate amounts of production and distribution throughout the nation.

Of course, these hearings also focused on the significant amount of tax revenue Germany could net if legalization is successfully implemented. And like all countries dealing with the issue, Germany will also need to grapple with the social cost of legalization. Namely, how to prioritize safety and education amongst its youth. This topic also has been a large focus of these hearings.

What about the UN?

The other issue in play here that plagues all subscribing countries is the United Nations (UN) 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In 2020, the UN finally removed marijuana for medicinal use from Schedule IV of the Convention. Schedule IV is reserved for the most harmful drugs with virtually no medical utility. That removal does not extend to adult use marijuana.

In turn, Germany, like Canada and Uruguay before it, will have to do some legal tap dancing to support its legalization. Mostly, Canada and Uruguay are just ignoring international law. We explained that dynamic here. Germany could follow suit or it could spur an overhaul to the Convention, which is a real possibility.

Joint meeting of ministers

In addition to the hearings, on July 15th, Germany, along with Malta, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, had a joint meeting of government ministers (including from other EU nations) to specifically discuss cannabis legalization and a collaborative approach to the issue. The main interesting result of the meeting was that Malta, Luxembourg, and Germany executed a joint statement about future drug policy reform and EU marijuana legalization. The Netherlands abstained.

We have a “common understanding”

In part, the statement says that:

there is a need to re-assess our policies on cannabis and to take into account recent
developments in this area, to further strengthen and develop health and social responses,
such as prevention programs, treatment and harm reduction interventions and to find new
approaches beyond prohibition based drug policies.

The best part of the statement though, in my opinion, is that upon which this alliance agreed in the section titled “We have a common understanding that . . .”. Essentially, these European countries have a very common public health and safety enemy in the form of the illegal marijuana markets in their countries.

The current byzantine enforcement and safety policies around marijuana in Europe are not sustainable, and these countries have a responsibility to generate new common sense regulations. Further, those regulations will account for social and criminal justice, as well as for public safety and security, “in the light of new scientific evidence, monitoring data, emerging consumption patterns and market evolutions”.

The future seems bright for EU marijuana legalization

In the U.S., on the whole, the states borrow from each other when it comes to marijuana laws, policy, and reform. In my opinion, no state has really set the gold standard yet. Considerations range from type and volume of regulation to tax issues and how to snuff out the illegal market.

It is going to be incredibly interesting to see these EU countries tackle these problems. And I hope the U.S. can learn a thing or too (namely, our federal government). I am confident though that these EU nations will do more than just talk at the end of the day. While Luxembourg has the jump on legalization, I think Germany will follow quite quickly and will hopefully impress us all.

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