Even though medical marijuana is gaining increased accessibility in Europe, most EU countries still prohibit personal cannabis use. Germany's progression towards potentially becoming the second EU nation, following Malta, to legalize recreational cannabis could set a precedent for other countries to consider similar measures.
Nevertheless, in the broader European context, cannabis continues to be unlawful, and specific EU member states even impose legal consequences, including imprisonment, for the possession of marijuana.
While certain countries are initiating trial initiatives for medical marijuana, which is gradually becoming more attainable throughout the EU, some experts argue that the European cannabis market has exhibited a slower growth rate than that of the United States or Canada.
Malta has the most permissive legislation in the EU for cannabis growing, use, and possession. According to regulations enacted in 2021, adults may possess up to 7g of cannabis and grow to four plants in their homes. Marijuana smoking is still not permitted in public, though.
However, as the country's cabinet approved proposals to legalize the possession of 25g of cannabis for personal use and the growth of up to three plants, Germany may soon have the most lax regulations in the bloc. The Bundestag still needs to vote on this piece of legislation.
Although the Netherlands is often perceived as lenient regarding marijuana, the growing, trading, and ownership of drugs remain against the law. The sale of cannabis is merely "tolerated" within the country's renowned coffee shops, and possessing no more than 5 g of cannabis is also considered a non-criminal offense.
Portugal implemented cannabis decriminalization in 2001, whereby the consumption and possession of small quantities are treated as administrative offenses. In Spain, private consumption isn't prohibited, but partaking in public is considered an offense, leading to fines.
In Luxembourg, private cannabis consumption is tolerated; as of this year, cultivating up to four cannabis plants is permitted. Possession of cannabis in public has also been decriminalized.
Although several EU nations have decriminalized the drug, specific regions within the EU still enforce legal penalties that include imprisonment for its possession.
The regulations surrounding cannabis frequently revolve around the quantity of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as outlined by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Medical cannabis availability has increased across European nations, but the market development is ongoing. Several countries have initiated public pilot initiatives to enhance access to medical marijuana potentially. Numerous studies have demonstrated its therapeutic potential for cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic pain, and more.
Denmark, for instance, introduced a pilot program in 2018, enabling doctors to prescribe products previously not permissible in the country. According to the government, the underlying purpose of these pilot programs is to provide patients with a legitimate avenue for exploring medicinal cannabis treatment if they have found no relief from authorized medications.
In 2019, Ireland initiated a five-year pilot program to enable the availability of cannabis products for medical applications. This program serves patients with multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and severe epilepsy.
Similarly, France launched a medical cannabis pilot initiative in 2021. The national medicines agency is establishing more precise guidelines for domestically producing medical marijuana products.
Despite the potential for medical marijuana prescription by physicians in various countries, its accessibility can still be restricted. This is due to certain countries either importing limited quantities of available medical products or lacking a comprehensive program for procuring them.
Furthermore, contrasting the situations in the Czech Republic and Germany, where patients have the potential to receive reimbursement for medical cannabis, there are other countries where the patient bears the entire cost.
The Chief Medical Officer of Curaleaf International, a medical marijuana company, noted in this year's European Pharmaceutical Review that Europe has trailed behind Canada, Australia, and the United States in addressing this matter. Mikael Sodergren highlighted that in numerous countries, medical cannabis is considered a treatment of last resort after licensed medications have proven ineffective.
In 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution advocating for uniform regulations across the EU regarding medical cannabis and urging increased scientific research on the topic.
In 2020, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs decided to reclassify cannabis, removing it from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it had been grouped alongside opioids and heroin.
Drugs listed in Schedule IV are subjected to heightened restrictions, prohibiting the production, manufacturing, export, import, trade, possession, or use. These substances are considered to lack any therapeutic benefits.
Removing cannabis from this schedule marked a significant international step towards acknowledging potential medical applications of the plant. Notably, Hungary was the sole EU nation to oppose the removal of cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 convention in the voting process.
In the present year, the European Commission has referred Hungary to the Court of Justice of the European Union due to its voting stance, asserting that it contradicted the bloc's consensus. Hungary is one of the limited EU member states where recreational and medical cannabis usage remains illegal.
However, even in regions where medical professionals can prescribe medical marijuana, the accessibility to it can be constrained. As an example, in Sweden, there is no differentiation between hard and soft drugs in recreational terms, leading to cannabis and heroin being categorized as narcotics with a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs within the nation. The usage of medical marijuana is only sanctioned under particular conditions outlined by the Swedish Medical Products Agency and a physician.
Nonetheless, over the past decades, legal frameworks have gradually shifted towards a more lenient standpoint on cannabis. Various countries have taken steps to lessen penalties for possession and have become more receptive to the potential medical and therapeutic applications of the substance.
A diversity of policies and attitudes marks the landscape surrounding cannabis in the European Union. While some countries have embraced the potential medical benefits and taken steps to decriminalize or legalize its use, others remain stringent in their prohibitions.
Removing cannabis from Schedule IV by the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs signifies an international shift in recognizing its possible medical applications. As countries continue to navigate the delicate balance between regulation and accessibility, the evolution of cannabis policies within the EU remains a dynamic and evolving process.
EUROPEAN CANNABIS NEWS, READ ON...