Last month the tiny landlocked country Luxembourg announced it would be the first EU country to potentially legalise cannabis in the near future.
It was a bold statement by the country with a population of just 590,000, but it demonstrates that the warming of opinions on cannabis is not restricted to North America.
The local government reached the consensus that cannabis prohibition has so far failed to achieve its objectives, particularly on the topics of cultivation, trafficking and use among the citizens.
Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg’s health minister, revealed that “this drug policy we had over the last 50 years did not work”.
As a result, they plan to legally regulate the production of cannabis while also legalising consumption.
If this budding plan comes into fruition, Luxembourg will be added to a growing list of countries alongside Canada and 11 States in the US that have begun re-evalutating archaic drugs policies in which substances were banned and people deemed criminals and locked up for non-violent offences.
Luxembourg already benefits from the use of medical cannabis and has decriminalised small quantities of weed for personal recreational use so it seems the next logical step is for the country to continue making efforts towards complete legalisation of the plant.
While it may not seem like a big deal given Luxembourg’s lack of numbers and powerful political presence, it serves as a huge example to other European countries that may also consider weed prohibition being a failed project.
As cannabis is more prevalent, potent and consumed than any other drug in Europe, Luxembourg paving the way in legally regulating and consuming weed sets a high bar for the rest of the EU, where approximately three million people use cannabis.
Although cultivation, supply and possession of cannabis are still criminal offences in the Netherlands, a softer approach to the plant evolved into the coffeeshop concept where cannabis sales are legalised and licensed by individual districts.
Initially set up to tempt young people away from experimenting with harder drugs, an evaluation of the Netherlands drug situation in 2009 found that users of cannabis were utilising coffeeshops as their main source of weed and the soft and hard drugs market remained separate entities, demonstrating that legalisation and regulation can work.
Similarly, although not tolerated by government authorities, countries such as Spain, Belgium, Germany and even the UK have recently been host to secret ‘cannabis clubs’, operating on the assumption that if one person can get away with cultivating one cannabis plant for individual use, then multiple people should not get prosecuted for cultivating multiple plants together for their own use.
These hazy business-ventures seem to be inevitably emerging regardless of the legalities of cannabis use, production and possession in the respective countries, it seems almost rational that governments should utilise them and potentially take control and make their own profit from them to benefit the wider society.
Portugal also decided to decriminalise all drug use a few years ago in 2001, with drug use, crime and drug-related illnesses falling dramatically since then and the predicted scare stories of an entire country consumed by drugs failed to transpire.
The decriminalisation in Portugal actually saw a reduction in drug arrests, reduced from 14,000 in 2000 to around 5,500 per year after the new laws were introduced in 2001, freeing up vital police resources in order to focus on violent crimes instead.
In countries like the UK, Germany and France, drug-related crime has actually risen exponentially despite the seemingly stricter laws.
Crime on the rise
In the UK there has been a worrying increase in stabbings in London, with much of that is to do with the drugs trade, where one of the most popular drugs sold on the street is still cannabis.
After three murders in the space of 24 hours including two teenagers, a local resident describing the ‘gang-related’ crime in the area explained that “there’s more knife crime, more drugs” and another bystander stated that “there are drug dealers everywhere – you see them all the time” after admitting he now walks a different route home.
Individuals who want to use cannabis will do so regardless of the laws, and such people are already purchasing their weed on the black market and subsequently coming into contact with drug dealers who may be violent people and offer low quality buds with the potential to offer your everyday stoner more harmful drugs later on.
If the UK was to follow in Luxembourgs footsteps, taking the cultivation and sale of cannabis out of the hands of the criminal underworld and back into the government’s control where it could be regulated and taxed, this could consequentially alleviate a myriad of various issues and add a monumental amount of money to the economy.
Prisons across Europe are full of weed offenders, the majority of those are non-violent individuals and in 2017, there were 440,000 seizures of cannabis in the EU, amounting to 40% of the total number of drug seizures in the EU that year, with potency and price soaring each year from 2006-2016.
In seven years from 2010 to 2017 in the UK, cannabis warnings, cautions and prosecutions have reduced significantly despite usage continuing to increase, dropping from just over 80,000 police issued warnings in 2010 to around 30,000 in 2017.
A recent parliament motion on cannabis legislation was tabled in 2018, where it was stated that the House of Commons believes that “the War on Drugs and the prohibition of cannabis has been a calamitous failure; recognises the dreadful social costs of the illegal cannabis market, including extreme violence in our communities, the accumulation of wealth by criminals gangs”.
They also highlighted the issues of “the health risks posed by the absence of any framework to regulate the safety or potency of these drugs; notes that banning cannabis does not reduce levels of drug use or drug-related harm, but unfairly stigmatises and criminalises young people who are doing no harm to others whilst tying up police resources which could be better used tackling harmful crimes”.
The hope among cannabis enthusiasts now is that the high pressure of a forward-thinking country such as Luxembourg turning to legalisation will spur on other EU member states to discuss the issue in a serious manner and even consider making a similar move.