Recently, Germany scaled back on its proposed plans to legalize cannabis. Instead, the country settled on a watered-down version of cannabis legalization, frustrating many marijuana advocates. In part, the decision to trim their once robust cannabis legalization plans came from pressure from the European Union, the political and economic body of 27 member states.
New pressure is building in Europe as countries push back against the EU. Many European nations call for cannabis reform, challenging the European Union’s longstanding conservative views on drug policy. Will the chorus of countries be enough to pressure the EU into changing its stance on marijuana legalization across Europe?
The Problem in Germany
Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to attempt to create a robust cannabis legalization plan. The country wanted to legalize recreational marijuana and enact regulations similar to states like California and Colorado in the U.S. Consumers could buy and possess cannabis for private consumption, and cultivation and distribution was regulated through a controlled market. German officials even toured cannabis businesses in California to help them understand the pros and cons of creating the new industry.
Unfortunately, the European Union stepped in, worried about breaking international treaties and public health safety concerns. The European governing body cited the Schengen Convention of 1985, which requires countries to combat the illicit drug trade, as a potential hurdle to legalizing cannabis in Germany.
Although many European countries have legalized cannabis for medicinal use, the EU takes a more conservative stance on legalizing recreational marijuana for adult consumption. Some worry that one country legalizing the substance could create a domino effect, spurring neighboring countries into legalizing the drug. Others worry that neighboring countries not interested in legalizing recreational cannabis could see an increase in drug trafficking because the substance is legal in proximity.
In part, due to EU pushback, German lawmakers settled on a highly watered-down version of cannabis reform legislation. The country allows individuals to grow three cannabis plants for personal use. Additionally, you cannot buy cannabis at recreational retail shops. German residents can only purchase cannabis from non-profit groups or private cannabis clubs of up to 500 members.
More European Countries Want to See Cannabis Reform
The simplified legislation passed in the county disappointed advocates of Germany’s original legalization efforts. However, new calls to legalize cannabis in Europe are coming from some of Germany’s neighbors, as other countries signal support for reforming European cannabis laws.
The Czech Republic is one of almost half a dozen European countries announcing plans to legalize cannabis. The radical new reform plans look to build on the success seen in Canada and parts of the United States.
Last year, Prague indicated it was drafting legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use. This measure would be the first significant step forward for cannabis reform since the Czech Republic allowed personal possession in 2010.
The small country of Luxembourg has passed a law permitting residents to grow their marijuana for personal use, and Malta gave the go-ahead to legalize private cannabis clubs. Even the Netherlands, which criminalizes the growth and sale of cannabis, is looking to launch a pilot program to test the legal sale of the drug by year’s end. Dorien Rookmaker, member of the European Parliament for the Netherlands, says it is important that the Netherlands takes the next step toward legalizing the growth of cannabis. There are a growing number of voices in Europe wanting to move cannabis reform measures forward.
Additionally, it isn’t just European leaders interested in cannabis reform policy. Surveys indicate that more than half of Europeans favor legalizing marijuana. Residents in Italy and Portugal stand out as the most supportive of cannabis reform, even though neither country has made any significant strides in attempting to pass major cannabis reform measures.
Can Progress Be Stopped?
Many in Europe don’t feel cannabis reform progress will reach a stopping point. Some insist that legalizing recreational cannabis will provide better safeguards and money for youth protection. Many also believe legalizing the drug could help combat illicit drug trafficking across Europe without negatively impacting the wider bloc.
The Deputy Chairman of the German Cannabis Business Industry Association claims that many countries see prohibition policies fail. Similar statements have recently come from Columbian President Gustavo Petro, who says the war on drugs has failed, and prohibitive cannabis policies don’t impact the illegal drug trade.
One way citizens of Europe can take a more active approach to legalizing cannabis could be to raise a European Citizens’ Initiative in support of legalization. The program gives residents a more significant political say and helps them influence European policy. European citizens can sign an initiative, and once that initiative reaches one million signatures, a commission can decide to act. Currently, the commission is in the process of considering its 100th initiative. The initiatives currently being considered run the gamut from a proposal to connect all European capitals with a high-speed train network to an initiative to have vegan alternatives always available in locations that sell food and drinks in Europe to a call to achieve the first European tobacco-free generation by 2030.
With more than half of Europeans supporting cannabis reform and legalization, it should only be a matter of time before a European Citizens’ Initiative regarding cannabis makes its way to the commission for consideration. In the meantime, individual European countries continue to make progressive inroads regarding cannabis policy while facing roadblocks from the EU itself. Advocates seem confident that in the long term, Europe can find a legalization framework that allows countries to enact meaningful cannabis reform while others are allowed to opt out. If the ongoing disagreements prove anything, it is that changes in legislation are necessary.
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