Nicholas takes a look back at 2021 up until today and how cannabis legislation has progressed throughout the world.
2021 saw many developments in the reform of cannabis legislation across multiple countries. We observed as America flourished in the wake of numerous states legalising cannabis and watched as Canada cultivated their regulated cannabis industry into one of the biggest revenue sources for the country. Now, we are starting to see change across the world. Most recently in Malta. While the Netherlands is famous for its coffee shops where cannabis can be openly sold and consumed, Malta will be the first country in the E.U to legalise cannabis, at least in small amounts.
It is a debate that has persisted for decades, is cannabis a harmless recreational substance, certainly no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco or is it a gateway drug that can have long term damaging effects, particularly on the young? For the lawmakers in Malta, the answer seems to be the former as they have voted to legalize cannabis, allowing adults to carry up to seven grams and grow up to four plants at home. The decision has afforded Malta to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who use cannabis now have safe and regulated access to the plant.
Supporters of the reform celebrated amongst Malta’s Equality Minister, Owen Bonnici who promoted the legislation, stating the country has chosen a harm reduction approach to tackle its drug abuse and it will stop the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding people. MPs in Malta voted 36 to 27 votes in parliament to make it legal for anyone 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and to cultivate up to four plants while consuming in public and in the presence of minors remains illegal. New regulations will allow for the setting up of non-profit clubs that can distribute cannabis and cannabis plant seeds among their members. This has resulted in Malta being the first European country to allow limited cultivation and possession of cannabis. Luxembourg which announced similar plans last October has yet to green light proposals and in Germany, the new coalition government says it plans to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The main opposition party opposed the plan, warning it would normalize and increase drug abuse but where Malta leads others may follow. Luxembourg and Germany are also promising changes in the law. [i]
Germany legalised medicinal cannabis in 2017 which was an important step forward for Europe and now countries like the UK, Poland, Italy, and France are looking into developing their own medicinal programs. On the recreational side, Luxemburg is looking to legalize cannabis for personal use in the near future, and in Germany, many of the political parties have legalisation included in their campaigns. Currently, the European medicinal market is around €300 million to €400 million which is relatively small but considering the market started four years ago, it’s already scalable and the projections are that the market is going to grow to €3 billion. With additional recreational markets, projections would be tenfold of what it currently stands. [ii]
Italy will also be looking to reform as cannabis advocates have already gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum to legalize marijuana next year. A victory will turn Italy’s restrictive system into one of the most liberal in Europe resulting in multiple economic benefits as recent reforms have shown. The Italian market for recreational use is worth in the ballpark of €80 billion which Mafia gangs currently benefit from but once legalized and taxed no differently like cigarettes, it will add €6 million a year to the state.[iii]
The east is also going green as Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2020 and this year saw them approve a “de facto” decriminalisation of cannabis. Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board approved the dropping of the plant from its controlled drugs list following the exclusion of cannabis and hemp from the list of illegal drugs under Thailand’s Narcotic Law. While recreational use is currently in a grey area of related laws making the legal status of recreational use unclear. Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul has been campaigning since 2019 for the legalisation of cannabis production to aid the farmers of the country with the latest progression seen to stimulate recreational cannabis use as a major industry.
Anutin noted that the FDA’s delisting “responds to the government’s urgent policy in developing marijuana and hemp for medical and health care benefits, developing technology and creating income for the public.”[iv]
The future looks hopeful with these recent events as we move towards cannabis legislation creeping ever closer to home. With the E.U capitalising on the societal benefits of cannabis decriminalisation and medical benefits of its medicinal qualities, we may see Ireland follow in the footsteps of the most progressive countries a lot sooner than later.