The world took notice recently when Germany announced its plans to move forward with cannabis legalization. While the final plan falls short of what officials had originally set out to do, it still puts Germany ahead of its neighbors when it comes to European cannabis laws.
If Germany moves forward with its plan, it will become the second EU country after Malta to legalize recreational cannabis. Some believe it could also influence other countries to follow Malta and Germany into legalizing cannabis.
As things stand today, most European cannabis laws still make marijuana illegal. Some countries still have laws that require jail time for cannabis possession. Some experts point out that despite its reputation as being more liberal with its policies than other western countries, the European market “has been slower to grow than the United States or Canada,” according to EuroNews.
The Difference in European Cannabis Laws
Taking a look across Europe, the main trend relating to cannabis is that it still remains illegal in most parts of the continent. However, there are exceptions.
At present, Malta boasts the most lenient regulations within the EU when it comes to the farming, use and ownership of cannabis. As of the legislation enacted in 2021, individuals are permitted to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants in their residence. It’s important to note that the act of smoking marijuana in public spaces remains unlawful.
Germany is on the brink of potentially adopting the most lenient regulations in the bloc. The nation’s cabinet has endorsed proposals to legalize the possession of 25 grams of cannabis for personal use and permit the cultivation of up to three plants. Nevertheless, these measures await approval through a parliamentary vote in the Bundestag.
Although the Netherlands is often viewed as relaxed in its approach to marijuana, it’s important to note that the cultivation, sale and possession of drugs remains unlawful. The sale of cannabis is “tolerated” in the renowned Dutch coffee shops, where possession of no more than five grams is also decriminalized.
Portugal took a step towards decriminalization in 2001, treating the consumption and possession of small cannabis quantities as an administrative offense. Meanwhile, in Spain, private consumption isn’t prohibited, but public consumption is considered an offense and is subject to fines.
In Luxembourg, private cannabis consumption is tolerated, and as of this year, the cultivation of up to four cannabis plants is allowed, with the public possession of cannabis decriminalized.
While numerous EU countries have decriminalized cannabis, in some regions of the EU, the drug’s possession still carries the potential for incarceration under the law. Those areas include France, Finland, Denmark and much of Eastern Europe.
Use of Medical Marijuana Increases in Europe
Cannabis for medical use has become increasingly available in European countries but the market is still being developed. Some countries have launched public pilot programs that could lead to more access to medical cannabis, which has been demonstrated in several studies to have some therapeutic benefits for cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis (MS) and chronic pain patients, among others.
A pilot program entered into force in Denmark in 2018 to allow doctors to prescribe products that were not previously legal in the country.
In Ireland, a five-year pilot program was launched in 2019 to facilitate access to cannabis products for medical use. It is for use in patients with multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and severe epilepsy.
France also began a medical cannabis pilot project in 2021 and the government’s medicines agency is currently defining more specific rules for future French production of medical marijuana products.
While medical marijuana can be prescribed by a doctor in many countries, European cannabis laws generally limit the import of cannabis to small amounts or do not have a program for sourcing them.
Also, while in the Czech Republic and in Germany, patients can be reimbursed for medical cannabis, in other countries, the cost is covered solely by the patient. The chief medical officer at Curaleaf International, a medical marijuana company, wrote in the European Pharmaceutical Review this year that Europe has lagged behind Canada, Australia and the U.S. on the issue.
“In many countries, medical cannabis is only utilized as a therapy when licensed medications have proven ineffective,” Mikael Sodergren wrote.