Ministers and senior officials from The Netherlands, Germany, Malta and Luxembourg met for talks in Luxembourg last week to discuss “the regulation of cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific uses” in what has been dubbed a “historic” summit. At the talks, officials discussed a number of issues, including how current cannabis prohibition laws aren’t working for society and what obstacles might stand in the way of an attempt to change the legislation.
This summit holds great significance because for the first time in history there have been multilateral discussions involving senior European government officials who are all ‘competent in the fields of drug supply and drug demand of the national governments’ from economically developed countries such as Germany and The Netherlands.
Each of the cannabis policies of Germany, Malta, The Netherlands and Luxembourg are at different stages of evolution. In 2022, Malta became the first country with a legal adult-use market in Europe. The Netherlands has had a semi-legal cannabis market for decades, where both private and public use is tolerated by authorities and cannabis tourism is rising. Both Luxembourg and Germany are now in the advanced stages of legislation changes.
Other countries that, too, allow adult-use recreational cannabis markets include Uruguay, which became the first country to allow controlled cannabis use, possession and cultivation in 2013, and Canada, which introduced similar laws in 2018. They were shortly followed by Georgia in 2018, South Africa also in 2018, Mexico in 2021, and Thailand in 2022.
The United States also has a considerable amount of adult cannabis use, with many states benefiting from tax revenue from thriving cannabis markets. Despite this, the progression of cannabis legalisation at a federal level has yet to materialise.
At the end of the summit, a joint statement was signed by all attendees, excluding The Netherlands. The statement details the UN’s Conventions, as well as the EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025, which “aims to protect and improve the well-being of society and of the individual… [and] public health,” among other intentions, such as “to increase health literacy”.
The statement also highlights how cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug, both globally and in Europe, and is the drug that law enforcement encounters the most.
Cannabis use is most prevalent in young people, which the statement claims are the most vulnerable group to the harmful effects of the high-THC cannabis that is widely available on the illicit market. The statement also considers the growth of the synthetic cannabis or New Psychoactive Substances (NSP) market, which it claims substantially increases the risk to public health.
According to the statement, the illicit market provides around €11 billion of funds to Organised Crime Groups (OCG). This, it claims, is leading to an increase in their power and influence in the legal economy, society and politics – and is considered a growing threat to public security.
“In terms of law enforcement, it has become even more challenging to enforce existing cannabis laws and regulations,” the statement reads. “Law enforcement and prosecution resources are limited and foremost needed to fight severe offences such as organized crime and drug trafficking.
“There is a need to re-assess our policies on cannabis and to take into account recent developments in this area, to further strengthen and develop health and social responses, such as prevention programs, treatment and harm reduction interventions and to find new approaches beyond prohibition based drug policies.”
Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst for the UK charity Transform Drug Policy Foundation, spoke to leafie about what he believes could happen in the wake of the summit. Rolles believes that the presence of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) at the summit, which he thinks will “facilitate information exchange and analysis” and result in “good data”. This, in turn, “will help the wider reform movement make the case elsewhere in the world too,” Rolles shares.
“There are also some tentative discussions underway with the various multilateral entities, both EU and UN, with whom these developments are creating tensions. But this is all very early days…, It was the first time anything like this had happened – certainly, it’s historic, but it’s also just the first step on what will likely be a long and bumpy political road.”
When asked about what the summit could mean for the UK, Rolles said that he’s “not anticipating [the UK] government embracing non-medical cannabis legalisation.” He adds that the UK “seem to be moving in the opposite direction. It’s not impossible…but I’d say it’s very unlikely until after the next election, and even then I don’t see the UK leading the charge.”