Cannabis reform has remained a hot topic around the world in recent years. While most of us may now associate such measures primarily with North America – thanks to the outright legalisation of cannabis in Canada in 2018 and the ongoing wave of reforms across the US – this trend is slowly branching out to other parts of the globe. From Europe to Africa, Asia, and Australia, a growing number of countries are starting to reassess their blinkered approach to this versatile and often life-changing drug and medicine and consider alternatives, from decriminalisation to legalisation.
So, let’s take a closer look at five countries that may be on the cusp of some significant cannabis reforms.
Okay, so I know we said that there is a lot going on in the world of cannabis reform outside of North America, but the latest developments in the US could soon see the government finally initiating meaningful reforms at the federal level – which is certainly worth mentioning. Around two-thirds of Americans now live in a state where the sale and use of recreational cannabis is permitted. Even more live in a state where cannabis has been legalised for medicinal purposes. But despite this progressive approach, cannabis remains tightly controlled under federal law.
Cannabis has been listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act since the 1970s – alongside heroin and LSD. This classification indicates that cannabis has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. However, in August (2023), the Department for Health and Human Services recommended to the Drug Enforcement Administration that cannabis be re-classified to Schedule III of the Act. Such a move would place cannabis in the same category as lower-risk drugs such as anabolic steroids and ketamine, which can be obtained with a prescription in the US.
It is likely to take some months for the DEA to announce their decision on the recommendation, which will be considered under three criteria: Potential for abuse, potential for medical use, and the extent to which it is unsafe or addictive. If approved, the rescheduling of cannabis would reduce barriers to research and have a significant impact on the existing cannabis industry in the US; however, it remains unclear whether medical cannabis programs would become sanctioned at the federal level.
Over the last few years, a number of European countries have caused a stir with announcements of a range of cannabis reform measures. But most recently, none have succeeded in causing a bigger stir than Germany. Readers who have followed along with Germany’s journey to cannabis legalisation will know that the central European country may very well be on the verge of becoming the world’s largest legal cannabis market, as plans to introduce the most significant reforms the continent has seen in decades.
Earlier this year, the German government approved a draft law that would legalise the purchase and possession of recreational cannabis through “cannabis social clubs”. Once approved by parliament, the introduction of such clubs will likely be only the first step in a wider series of reforms expected to be rolled out in the coming years. This will include regional pilot programs of specialist shops, similar to dispensaries that are currently favoured in many US states and Canada.
Czechia, also widely known as the Czech Republic, didn’t waste much time following Germany’s cannabis legalisation announcement in 2022 before the government revealed plans of its own. In late 2022, the Czech coalition government disclosed it was in the process of drafting legislation that would be coordinated with Germany’s legalisation efforts. But, like other European countries contemplating a move towards a more progressive approach to cannabis, Czechia has noted some push-back from the European Union.
The Czech government appears to be steadfast in its determination to introduce full legalisation of cannabis; so much so that it may be willing to amend the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen Agreement was created in 1995 and was designed to create a single market where goods, services, capital, and people can move freely between member states. This arrangement creates a significant issue when it comes to controlled products such as cannabis.
Speaking at the Cannabis Europa London 2023 in May, the country’s Anti-Drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil, reiterated the country’s commitment to launching “a fully regulated market.” Under the proposed reforms, it is understood that pharmacies would be permitted to sell cannabis products and citizens would be allowed to cultivate an area of up to 3 sq. Metres for personal use.
This summer, the non-EU country of Switzerland announced that Europe’s first THC adult-use cannabis trial – Weed Care – was entering its second phase, which saw the number of participants more than double. On July 28th, the Basel-Stadt Health Department published an update on the study, which is set to run until July 2025. But this isn’t the only pilot study examining the effects of potential cannabis reforms in the country.
A much larger study, known as “Züri Can – Cannabis with Responsibility” was launched in Zurich with the aim to compare different models of procurement, enabling participants to choose to buy cannabis products from a social club, pharmacy, or drug counselling service. Another study is set to be launched in the Swiss cities of Lucerne, Biel, and Berne and will feature a further 1,091. Finally, two more trials are set to begin later this year in Geneva and Lausanne.
Israel has long been ahead of the game when it comes to cannabis research and policy. Israeli scientists Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni are credited with being the first to isolate THC in 1964 and, since then, the country has been a world leader in cannabis research. Furthermore, the country’s approach to cannabis policy is among the most progressive in the world, with the formal legalisation of medical cannabis being introduced in 1999. And the latest set of reforms in Israel could see a dramatic increase in the number of patients able to access medical cannabis.
In August, Israel’s Health Ministry published its latest proposals for medical cannabis reform in the country, which are expected to be introduced by the end of the year. The reforms would see the transition of medical cannabis from a “last resort” treatment to a “first-line” intervention. The country is also expected to remove the need for patients to secure a government license for medical cannabis products. The licensing model would be replaced with a more traditional prescription model which would remove barriers to access for many patients.
According to Israel’s Health Minister Moshe Arbel, these and other proposed measures will be “great for tens of thousands of Israeli citizens and the economy.”
There’s no doubt that cannabis reforms are picking up traction across all regions of the globe. The full extent of the proposed changes and how quickly they can be achieved remains to be seen, but there is a good chance that many of the countries discussed in this article are on the cusp of meaningful reforms that could bolster efforts in other countries and jurisdictions.