Have you wondered what the cannabis market is like across the pond in Europe and how the laws differ from North America? Ever thought about the possibility of getting involved in that market? Because of current country-specific laws, cannabis entrepreneurs in the US who are looking to expand their business to Europe may have to wait a bit longer. In this article, we’ll discuss the status of cannabis for recreational and medical uses in Europe and what is on the horizon.
First, consider, the United States is one of the countries at the forefront of legalizing cannabis for both recreational and medical uses. Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and 10 states for recreational use. Then, Canada made history in 2018 as the second country to legalize cannabis use after Uruguay in 2012. Europe is slowly but steadily following the example of the US and decriminalizing the possession and recreational use of the drug, but the rules greatly differ by country and region.
Marijuana Laws in Europe
Many countries in Europe have made major investments in extensive research campaigns to uncover the medicinal benefits of the plant. Although the by-products like CBD, hemp seed oil, and hemp leaves have been commonly used for many years, the European Union has been slow on the legalization of THC products. Read on for an overview of marijuana in Europe and a breakdown of the countries where cannabis is legal:
The Netherlands is the country most associated with legal cannabis use in Europe, but it is not as legal as you might presume. It actually has not even been fully legalized but decriminalized. This means that if you carry marijuana, you can only be prosecuted under certain circumstances. Also, since 2013, only Dutch nationals have been able to legally purchase marijuana in coffee shops. So, if you were to go to one of these shops that sell cannabis today, they will certainly request identification. On top of that law, it is also important to know that no person is allowed to carry more than 5 grams of weed at any given time.
For the Swiss, weed for medicinal use is legal, with many pharmacies and specialist shops selling the product and smoking supplies. The downside here is that all legal strains must contain less that 1% THC, so strains like Sour Diesel and Wedding Cake are a no-go.
In 2015, the Maltese government decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana and in 2018, legalized medical use. In the same year, the Production of Cannabis for Medicinal Use Act was introduced, which allowed countries to produce and manufacture cannabis for medical use. Doctors were also then able to prescribe medicinal marijuana to their patients.
The laws in Spain differ from the rest of Europe as they don’t distinguish between medical and recreational use. The use of cannabis (for medicinal or recreational purposes) in private spaces was decriminalized in 2015. So, although cannabis use is still not technically legal, it can be consumed in the privacy of your own home. To obtain medicinal marijuana, Cannabis Clubs can be found throughout the country. These are non-profit private collectives that sell cannabis to Spaniards. It is important to note that some of those clubs are technically illegal markets, so buyers beware.
Depending on the state, Germans can possess between 6 grams to 15 grams of cannabis for recreational use. But weed is still against the law if a person is found with unauthorized possession, supply, and cultivation. The future of medicinal marijuana use in Germany looks bright since its legalization in 2017. The number of registered patients using the drug is growing.
With almost 5 million cannabis users in France, it is estimated that 11% of the country’s population has used marijuana in the past year. This makes France one of the highest consumers of marijuana in Europe. Interestingly enough, the use of marijuana in France dates all the way back to 1798 during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign when his troops turned to cannabis once they ran out of their alcohol supply. Napoleon’s eventual ban of the drug didn’t stop the rise in popularity.
More than 200 years later, in 2018, President Macron introduced ‘on the spot’ fines issued by police of up to $242 which means French cannabis users should be careful when using the product in public to avoid any hefty fines. To this day, marijuana is still not decriminalized in France and judges can issue jail sentences if they see fit.
Being one of Europe’s smallest countries didn’t stop Luxembourg from making waves in the cannabis industry. The country was one of the first to decriminalize personal possession in April 2021 after reclassifying weed as a Category B controlled substance. Those in possession of cannabis will only receive a monetary fine for a first offense. In November 2018, the Minister of Health in Luxembourg launched a pilot program spanning over two years that allows the country to obtain cannabis extracts and cannabinoids for medical uses. Less than a year later, lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Other European countries that have decriminalized marijuana to some degree include:
Austria: Illegal for recreational use, but legal for scientific and medical use. Belgium: Personal possession of up to 3 grams is decriminalized and certain uses of medical marijuana is legal. Bermuda: Marijuana is legal for medical use and decriminalized for recreational uses. Croatia: Cannabis has been decriminalized for personal use and legalized for certain medical uses. Denmark: A four-year pilot program, initiated in 2018, permits the medical use of cannabis while it remains illegal for recreational use. Georgia: Cannabis for both recreational and medical use has been legal since 2018, making it one of the first countries in the world to fully legalize the drug. Italy: Both medical and industrial uses are legal in Italy although highly regulated while recreational use is decriminalized. Lithuania: Recreational use remains illegal while the medical use and cultivation of industrial hemp has been legalized. North Macedonia: Patients may use marijuana for medicinal purposes while recreational use of cannabis remains illegal. Portugal: All drugs have been decriminalized in Portugal since 2001 and medical use of marijuana was legalized in 2018. United Kingdom: Marijuana in the UK was briefly classified as a Class C drug with less severe penalties although it only lasted until 2009. Recreational use remains illegal while medical use of cannabis has to be prescribed by a doctor.
Cannabis Laws in Europe: The Bottom Line
Many European countries tolerate cannabis and are open to changing legislation in the upcoming years. Some politicians have made the legalization of marijuana for recreational uses a large part of their campaigns and rallies. Little by little, more countries are passing new laws that open up the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. As politicians and countries discuss the possibility of further legalization, do note that cannabis laws in Europe are still tight.
The timelines in Europe and Northern America differ greatly and one cannot assume that anything will change overnight. Canada only recently legalized weed for recreational use, which was more than 20 years after it first legalized it for medicinal purposes. Although marijuana laws in Europe will likely not be changing over the next few months, there is light at the end of the legal tunnel within a couple of years. And while cannabis entrepreneurs from North America will have to wait a bit more before getting involved in the market, major growth is coming! Cannapreneurs looking to invest in the European medical marijuana market may be pleasantly surprised in the near future.
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