Europe’s legal pot paradox
The continent’s famously liberal attitude toward weed is not paralleled by a political tolerance for it
By Kieran Delamont
Amsterdam has its coffee shops. Copenhagen has Christiania. Berlin has plenty of helpful people who are willing to chemically enhance your time in their famous funky beats clubs. If you want to travel across Europe and avoid sobriety, the continent is happy to oblige.
But Europe’s famously liberal attitude toward weed is not paralleled by a political tolerance for it.
No country in Europe has yet to legalize recreational marijuana. And the countries that have legalized medical marijuana have done do so with heavy restrictions and difficult-to-access services. It’s all a pot paradox when you consider that an estimated 23 million Europeans smoke weed.
Over the last year, however, there have been signs of life for a European legalization movement. The European Parliament passed a resolution in February supporting the expansion of medical marijuana across the European Union.
So far, there’s an established medical marijuana regime in Germany and a largely problematic system in England. France, meanwhile, is preparing to launch a medical marijuana pilot project. And several Canadian companies now have production facilities on the continent.
“Most EU countries allow, or plan to allow, the medical use of cannabis in some form,” Maria Arena, a Socialist member of the European Union from Belgium, told Politico recently. “But the sale and production remains prohibited. Efforts to ban recreational cannabis have failed to curb consumption in Europe, but it remains difficult to access for medical purposes.”
But a new report suggests that the economic opportunities are heating up political excitement for legalization.
The European pot market could grow by 98 per cent in the next five years, according to research by Prohibition Partners. That would put it on its way to becoming the world’s largest cannabis market.
“The dominoes are falling,” says Canadian pot industry insider Deepak Anand. “We will see change in Europe on the cannabis files quicker than I think most people expect.”
The report notes that countries most severely affected by the economic downturn in 2008, like Greece and Macedonia, are already cultivating cannabis to support an ailing agriculture industry.
But the reality is that a fragmented political landscape and a patchwork of laws and regulations are going to take a long time to change.
If there is to be a wave of legalization, it’s apparently starting in Luxembourg.
This summer, the small western European nation announced that it planned to introduce legislation to legalize recreational pot this year. Weeks later, the Dutch government announced that it was going to pilot the regulated production of marijuana in 10 cities. And in October, the governing Christian Democratic Union party in Germany – the last party still supporting prohibition – also signaled that it’s open to legalizing recreational cannabis.
Still, the European cannabis industry has provided Canadian cannabis firms with plenty of places to spend. In 2019, Aurora, Tilray, and Canopy Growth were all buying up producers on the continent. Aurora won a sole-source contract to supply Italy with 400 kilograms of weed. Aurora and Aphria made up two of only three companies supplying all of the German medical market.
But unlike America, only one European country (Switzerland) has a mechanism for citizen’s ballot initiative of the kind that has driven the legalization in the United States. The battle for European legalization remains mired is in the “war on drugs’ approach.
So while investors are angling to get in on the European cannabis action, there’s still lots to be unpacked.