It is time for drug professionals, including the harm reduction community, to have a say about the upcoming regulation of the European cannabis market. If not, we miss an important historical opportunity to shape the future.
I have just read the 5th European Cannabis Report from Prohibition Partners, a think tank on the legal cannabis industry. It is an interesting read indeed, and an eye-opening one. There are revolutionary changes occurring in European cannabis policies that are not always visible, even for professionals working in the field of harm reduction. That is partly because Europe, despite all its joint institutions, is still so fragmented in terms of language, culture, and politics. Sometimes it is difficult to connect the dots. And partly because drug professionals traditionally focus on injecting drug use, opiates, and stimulants, where most of the public health harms concentrate. Meanwhile, they can tend to forget that the most popular illicit drug in Europe is still cannabis – and policies regulating it are changing rapidly.
A number of countries have introduced new legal regulation schemes for medical cannabis, established new cannabis agencies, and created legal channels to supply the market in recent years. An initiative running in the UK, for example, could see up to 20,000 patients given medical cannabis over a two-year period, with the aim of building the largest body of evidence on cannabis as a medicine in the region. Ireland has launched a pilot Medical Cannabis Access Program. France granted approval for a two-year trial to help doctors to understand medical cannabis. Germany, the biggest market, imported more than 6,7 tonnes of legal cannabis last year – and this amount is likely to grow multiple times in the following years. Europe is still dependent on imported cannabis but it is likely to change in the next couple of years, with more and more cannabis grown domestically. Medical cannabis reform is not only under way in western Europe but in the eastern part of the region as well: in countries where you would not expect it, like North Macedonia or Poland.
If you think that the reform will stop at medical cannabis, you are wrong. Luxembourg has announced that it will be the first European country to make cannabis legal. Prohibition Partners accurately points out that this will likely have a domino effect: neighbouring countries will relax their own policies. Cannabis reform is gaining speed in other countries too – again, not only in the west. I was surprised to learn that a new bill was introduced to the Croatian parliament recently about regulating the cannabis market. Even though it may be years before the first European countries legalise the recreational market, it is now obvious that it is just a question of time.