Photo credit: Visualistka
Legalization of cannabis is gaining ground all across the world.
This summer, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, unveiled a draft bill that would federally legalize cannabis in the U.S. In March, New York joined the lucky 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, with legal adult-use cannabis use. In June, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that the government should legalize recreational cannabis use, moving the country one step closer to becoming the world’s largest legal market for cannabis.
What about Europe? Well, currently, no country in the European Union (EU) authorizes legal production, commercialization, or use of cannabis. However, things are only just getting started on the Old Continent. A few governments are taking the first timid moves towards enacting legislation that enables cannabis possession and consumption.
This June, two Portuguese political parties – the Left Bloc and the Liberal Initiative – each presented proposals for the legalization of cannabis, reports Prohibition Partners, an intelligence and analytics resource. Both proposals are going to be referred to the Health Committee for a 60-day period during which public hearings, changes, and negotiations might take place before the final vote in Parliament.
Twenty years ago, in 2001, Portugal decriminalized possession of cannabis for personal use, along with all other illicit drugs. Currently, people can have quantities of up to 25 grams of plant material or 5 grams of hashish.
Today, possession of any drug in Portugal, if it’s not more than personal amounts (a 10-day supply), is not punishable, according to an article from the Law & Social Inquiry Journal. But if officials detect someone using or possessing drugs; they will refer them to the local Commission for Drug Addiction Dissuasion. This group consists of three officials. One is a legal expert and the other two are either medical specialists, psychologists, or social workers. This helps determine whether treatment is necessary to battle addiction.
Officials enacted the law in an attempt to address the country’s rising drug problem. According to 1997 research from the General Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies (SICAD), participants rated drug-related concerns as the number one social problem in Portugal. This has since moved to 13th position on the list in 2009.
Many attribute the reform to Joao Goulao, Portugal’s national drugs coordinator. He compared decriminalization to not wearing seatbelts in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
“The government demands that you wear one for your safety,” Joao Goulao said. “But it’s not going to send you to prison for not complying. Instead, it will fine you or send you to a traffic school.”
Currently, cannabis in Luxembourg is decriminalized for recreational use and legal for medical use. But not so long ago, on October 22nd, the Justice and Internal Affairs Ministers revealed, among other modifications to police authorities, their intention to fully legalize cannabis, reports Luxembourg Wort. The bill will also include household cultivation of up to four plants. Although, public possession of the plant will remain a punishable felony.
According to the ministers’ proposal, if a person is caught with a little amount of cannabis (less than 3 grams), officials will confiscate the items and fine the offender €25 to €500. This is in comparison to up to €2,500 before. Additionally, they will have no criminal record. A vote in parliament is still necessary to approve the proposals and reduce punishment. But the ideas have the support of the governing coalition.
Malta decriminalized cannabis in 2015 and permitted possession of up to 3.5 grams. But because the country has been a crossroad of illegal trafficking, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Center (OCCRP), simple possession of a minimal amount for personal use continues to be an “arrestable offense.”
Owen Bonnici, the Justice Minister who held the office at that period, said that the only reason for this is for police to be able to fight drug trafficking, reports Malta Independent. He also added that the possession of a minimal amount of drugs for personal consumption will effectively be decriminalized.
In the case of cannabis possession, first-time offenders will receive between €50 and €100 fine. Repeat offenders will appear before a Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, which will determine the rehabilitation terms if needed.
In 2018, the Maltese President signed legislation authorizing use of medicinal cannabis with a prescription. However, the legislation did not specify which particular ailments would warrant the use of cannabis.
In February 2021, Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela revealed his intentions to introduce legislation that would stop police from arresting individuals who possess a permitted amount of cannabis, reports Times of Malta. The proposals also aim to increase the permitted amount of cannabis, as well as to bring the right to cultivate a small number of plants for personal use.
Following a 1993 referendum pushed by the Radical Party, Italy became the first country in Europe to decriminalize cannabis for personal use, according to the New Left Review. But things weren’t so easy. In 2006, the so-called “Fini-Giovanardi law” was effected. It upgraded cannabis to schedule I and led to a substantial rise in penalties. This resulted in thousands of longer sentences and prison overcrowding.
The Supreme Court eventually repealed the law in 2014 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, according to the International School for Advanced Studies.
Such contradictory regulations have caused enormous uncertainty and divide in the public opinion. According to a 2020 study, 47.8% of Italians support legalizing light drugs, while 52.2% are against it.
The latest petition for a referendum on cannabis decriminalization, which activists started this year, seeks for the repeal of Presidential Decree n.309 from 1990. This will essentially remove all cannabis-related criminal punishment, according to the appeal to parliamentarians.
“This [petition] gives us hope,” Flavio Puglisi, a system administrator based in Naples, Italy, told Emerald. “There are so many people who are really in huge need of cannabis, and they can’t access it properly or without obstacles,” he added.
Cannabis is legal in Germany only for certain medical purposes but prohibited for recreational use. However, officials do not always punish possession of small amounts.
While precise figures on cannabis consumption in Germany remain difficult, numerous recent polls indicate an overall increase in the number of people using it.
In 2014, the Federal Center for Health Education surveyed 7,000 Germans ages 12 to 25 on their cannabis use, reports Deutsche Welle, a German news outlet. It discovered that almost 18% of 18 to 25-year-olds had used cannabis at least once in the previous year. This is up from 11.6% in 2008. Approximately 5% of those polled said they used the medication on a regular basis.
With cannabis consumption on the rise, pro-decriminalization lawmakers are targeting cannabis prohibition once more. For example, in February, the neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) joined forces with the Green Party and the Left Party to draw attention to what it calls an antiquated and hazardous approach towards cannabis, reports Deutsche Welle.
Given the drug’s widespread usage — at least 4 million Germans use it, according to the FDP — the parties want the government to legalize and regulate cannabis for personal consumption. They believe that doing so will safeguard users from cannabis of unknown origin and other risks of the illicit market.
In the end, legalization is definitely on the agenda of European lawmakers. Countries are gradually embracing a hybrid approach or introducing new legislation in stages. Supporting the changes and new petitions, users could expect the approach of a critical juncture in cannabis law very soon.