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Your 2023 Cannabis Look Back: International Edition

Cannabis reform is a hot topic across the globe. In 2023, several countries moved to enact or change cannabis-related laws within their borders. While some countries are looking to legalize or expand legalized cannabis, others are cracking down and enacting stricter laws governing the possession and consumption of the substance. The inroads made by many countries this year may help shape cannabis policy in the year to come.


Where does cannabis reform stand around the world? Let’s recap the year that was 2023.


Germany Inches Closer to Legalization but Doesn’t Make it Across the Finish Line


Germany continues to struggle to enact meaningful cannabis reform policy. During 2023, the country attempted to make significant strides to legalize recreational marijuana use within its borders. However, plans had to change thanks to pushback from the European Union. A new plan to legalize marijuana drafted by lawmakers would make possession and home cultivation of marijuana legal. However, only “social clubs” could distribute marijuana to dues-paying club members. 


Many cannabis advocates were disappointed in the scaled-back legislation but ultimately optimistic that some form of cannabis reform was making progress. Although lawmakers claimed they could get legalization over the finish line by year’s end, that never happened. Parliament has delayed a final vote on the marijuana proposal until at least early 2024. Some lawmakers are hopeful that if Parliament can pass the measure in early 2024, the country may still be on track to implement parts of the legalization plan by the originally intended April start date. 


The Netherlands Looks to Explore Full Marijuana Legalization 


Germany’s plight to legalize cannabis may have dominated the international headlines, but behind the scenes, the Netherlands has been exploring whether to implement full marijuana legalization, wiping out the country’s current cannabis gray areas. At a time when most European countries were cracking down on illicit drugs, the Netherlands opted for a different approach. In the 1970s, it decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, even though it remained illegal to sell or produce drugs. “Coffee shops” sprang up around the country as places where consumers could covertly purchase cannabis. These shops operate in a sort of legal gray area even though the Public Prosecution Service does not typically prosecute members of the public for consuming or possessing small amounts of marijuana. 


A new pilot program in the country is exploring whether to legalize marijuana by allowing coffee shops to obtain their marijuana supplies from three official, legitimate cannabis sources instead of from illegal drug traffickers. The cities of Tilburg and Breda are first on the list to try the experimental new program. The government will monitor how the program impacts supply chains, public health, public safety, and cannabis-related crime statistics before considering whether to move toward legalizing marijuana. 



New Thailand Prime Minister Seeks to Change the Rules 


Thailand was one of the first Asian countries to decriminalize cannabis. In 2023, the country’s new Prime Minister said it was time to return Thailand to the prohibition era. After months of political upheaval, a new coalition government took over the country. Leaders now say they want to reexamine Thailand’s decriminalization laws and reverse course, ridding the country of the numerous pop-up cannabis shops that sell marijuana to locals and tourists alike. 


Unfortunately, the country’s original decriminalization process was incomplete and lacked structure. It created a legal gray area, allowing cannabis pop-up shops to flood the market, selling products with little regulation or government oversight to ensure consumer safety. However, the market boomed and could generate as much as $1.68 billion in revenue by 2025 by some accounts.


Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is not convinced decriminalization or legalization are the ways to proceed. Instead, he built his political career on a tough anti-drug stance and says he wants to eliminate the “drug menace” in Thailand by rewriting Thai law. 2024 should prove to be an interesting year if the Prime Minister gets his way and Thailand reverts to a medicinal cannabis-only structure, driving recreational use back underground. 


Japan Expands Medical Marijuana but Cracks Down on Recreational Drugs 


Many Asian countries have stringent drug laws. Japan is no different. However, in a stunning about-face in 2023, the country moved to okay cannabis-based medicine for certain patients. A new law allows drugs made from cannabis to be used in Japan as long as the medication was approved for use in Europe or the United States already. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved drugs like Epidiolex to help manage and treat severe epileptic disorders. 


Previously, cannabis-based drugs could only be used in clinical trials. The new law means patients have expanded access to potentially life-altering cannabis-based medicines. However, the law also cracks down on a loophole that made it legal to inhale cannabis fumes but illegal to possess marijuana. The law was supposed to help spare hemp farmers from potential drug charges during cultivation. Now, “inhaling” or consuming cannabis can net a person a prison sentence of up to seven years. 


Ukrainian Leaders Legalize Medical Marijuana  


To close out the year, Ukrainian leaders in the war-torn country moved to legalize medical marijuana. The continuing war with Russia has left thousands of innocent civilians and traumatized soldiers suffering from the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pushed for expanded access to medical marijuana as a potential treatment for war-related physical and mental health conditions. The new law will allow cannabis to be used for various scientific and industrial endeavors. It will also allow those with a valid doctor’s prescription to obtain medicinal cannabis. However, recreational cannabis consumption remains a criminal offense. The new law takes effect in six months. 


2023 was a mixed year for international cannabis reform. Here’s to 2024, with hopes for more progressive movement on the cannabis reform front worldwide. You can follow more cannabis-related content in the New Year at Cannabutter Digest. We’ve got all the newsrecipes, and product reviews you can use. 

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