Demands for the legalization of cannabis are increasing throughout Europe, mirroring the progressive steps taken by Canada and certain regions of the U.S. to approve the use of the substance. Advocates conveyed many advantages of establishing a legal cannabis market during the Cannabis Europa industry event held in London last week. These benefits encompass improvements in public health, augmented tax revenues, and the destigmatization of medical marijuana.
Despite enduring opposition from critics who contend that legalization results in elevated crime rates, addiction issues, and health hazards, proponents insist that a regulated market yields positive outcomes. Jindřich Vobořil, the Czech Republic’s national drug coordinator, emphasized the efficacy of a regulated approach and underscored the need for cannabis to be governed like other controlled items within his domain, such as tobacco and alcohol. He pointed out that prohibition has proven ineffective, drawing parallels with the failures of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling restrictions.
Nevertheless, European governments are encountering resistance at the European Union level, as many struggle to draft legislation that aligns with EU regulations, international drug treaties, and public health considerations. While certain European countries have sanctioned the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons, the region has traditionally maintained a cautious stance towards recreational cannabis. Concerns linger that legalizing the substance in one country might trigger ripple effects for neighboring nations that oppose such actions.
The European Commission, which serves as the executive branch of the European Union, declined to comment on specific national dialogues but affirmed its close monitoring of these developments. A spokesperson conveyed that the Commission is attentive to the evolving cannabis policies within member states, particularly their potential impacts on health, crime, the environment, and societal dynamics. This perspective was shared through an emailed statement responding to CNBC’s inquiries. Against this backdrop, activists advocating cannabis legalization were observed marching past the Reichstag during Berlin’s annual Hemp Parade in Germany.
EU regulations mandate that member states establish measures that impose “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive” criminal penalties for selling illicit drugs, including cannabis. However, these regulations do not impose restrictions on personal consumption. Legalizing cannabis commercially also clashes with international treaties, including the United Nations’ 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Despite this, countries like Canada and Uruguay have not faced significant consequences after opting to legalize the drug.
In response to feedback from the EU, Germany recently scaled back its comprehensive legalization proposals. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach acknowledged the failure of his initial proposal and emphasized the need for a fresh approach in the revised plan. Under the updated legislation, the focus has shifted towards permitting private consumption and distribution through non-profit organizations. Additionally, the revised plan includes provisions for a potential pilot project to test the sale of cannabis in a limited number of licensed shops.
Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has introduced a contentious draft bill to legalize recreational cannabis use. The bill, which gained approval from the German Cabinet, is being pushed by proponents within the coalition government. Despite their aim to legalize cannabis this year, resistance emerges from conservative lawmakers, certain medical professionals, and law enforcement.
Lauterbach has characterized the draft bill as a significant shift from past unsuccessful cannabis policies. He emphasizes that although cannabis consumption will be legalized, it still carries risks. The Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Agriculture Ministry, stresses the importance of safeguarding youth through an upcoming information campaign.
The proposed legislation would permit adults over 18 to possess up to 25 grams of cannabis and grow up to three plants for personal use. Additionally, “cannabis social clubs” would be established, allowing members access to homegrown products. However, consumption within the clubs’ premises or 200 meters of them would be prohibited, presenting a challenge for finding suitable locations.
The initial phase involves decriminalization, followed by the possibility of specialized shops selling cannabis and THC-containing products in selected districts and cities. These regions would serve as model areas for five years. While there were initially high expectations for substantial tax revenues and savings in law enforcement costs, revised estimates have reduced these projections to hundreds of thousands of euros due to increased spending on law evaluation and prevention initiatives.
Medical professionals have voiced their criticism of the proposed changes. Five organizations representing physicians specializing in the care of children and young individuals issued a collective statement, expressing concerns about the potential harm to the mental well-being and developmental prospects of young people in Germany.
In addition, the police union has registered its opposition to the bill, and the German Association of Judges has cautioned against overburdening the judicial system due to the intricate regulations governing cannabis clubs and drug distribution.
Furthermore, conservative lawmakers from various states have openly rejected the proposed legislation. They argue that the initiative is “medically irresponsible,” some have even labeled it as an “assault on youth and health protection.”
In the first quarter of 2023, insurance reimbursements for medical cannabinoid products in Germany continued to grow, illustrating the ongoing gradual expansion of the country’s cannabis industry, which now ranks among the largest globally.
This period’s reimbursement reached approximately 50.9 million euros ($55.6 million), as indicated by the most recent data from the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV-Spitzenverband). This marks a 6.5% increase compared to the same period in the previous year. However, there was a minor decline compared to the fourth quarter of 2022. During this quarter, nearly 99,000 prescriptions were filled.
Within the market segments, the dried-flower segment accounted for 21.1 million euros, while finished pharmaceutical products, encompassing items like Sativex and Epidolex, recorded sales of 13.1 million euros.
For context, during the same quarter, Canada’s regulated cannabis market registered medical cannabis sales worth 98 million Canadian dollars ($72 million), per Statistics Canada’s data. It’s important to note that the German reimbursement figures do not encompass private prescription sales paid directly by patients. Consequently, the actual medical cannabis sales in Germany exceeded the reported 55.6 million euros, although an exact figure remains unavailable.
The evolving landscape of cannabis in Europe, particularly in Germany, reflects the intricate interplay between regulatory frameworks, medical considerations, and societal opinions. The gradual growth of the cannabis industry, as seen through insurance reimbursements for medical products, showcases the complexity of balancing public health needs with economic opportunities.
As the cannabis dialogue continues, it remains essential to weigh the perspectives of medical professionals, policymakers, and the public to navigate the path toward responsible and effective cannabis policies. (Full Story)