Malta just made headlines when it became the first European country to legalize cannabis a few weeks ago nationally. Many countries, Portugal and the Netherlands most famously, have decriminalized cannabis for personal use in Europe, and still, more have legalized cannabis for medical use more recently.
Until December 2021, however, no countries had explicitly legalized cannabis fully for recreational use. Malta stepped up to be the first, but several other countries plan to legalize recreational, adult-use cannabis shortly.
New German Government Signals Intent to Legalize Cannabis
Germany is vying for the second spot in European national cannabis legalization measures fast at Malta’s heels. For years, the long-standing chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-right party blocked legalizing and taxing cannabis. After Chancellor Merkel stepped down in October 2021, her government was succeeded by Chancellor Olaf Shulz, a social-democrat who leads a coalition government with the Greens and the libertarian Free Democratic Party.
The coalition agreement states that the parties will legalize cannabis and increase education on drug harm reduction about nicotine and alcohol. In addition, the agreement specifies the government’s intent to “introduce the controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores.” There are no dates that stipulate an exact timeline, but a vote is expected to occur sometime in early 2022.
Luxembourg Parliament to Vote on Cannabis Legalization
In October 2021, Luxembourg passed legislation permitting adults to grow up to four cannabis plants per household for personal use. It made history the first European country to legalize cultivation for personal use. However, if an individual is caught with a few grams of cannabis flower on the street, the cannabis will be seized, and that individual will be subjected to a fine.
Parliament is expected to vote on a proposal in early 2022 to reform current cannabis laws in the country. The ruling parties have signaled their intent to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. However, Parliament hopes to resolve international constraints (e.g., United Nations treaty obligations) before moving forward with legalization.
Portugal’s Parliament Proposes Cannabis Legalization
In 2001, Portugal made history by decriminalizing all drugs’ use, acquisition, and possession to approach addiction from a public health perspective instead of a criminal one. In 2018, they successfully instated a medical marijuana program. In early 2021, cannabis liberalization legislation was introduced in Parliament by the two parties, the Left Bloc and the Liberal Initiative.
The proposals from both parties highlight the economic benefits of legalization through methods like taxation and reference the positive social implications of doing so (e.g., crime reduction, entrepreneurship). In addition, it has been suggested that the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2022 may be used as part of a post-pandemic recovery strategy. According to forecasts up to 2025, Portugal has the potential to be Europe’s second-largest legal cannabis market after the Netherlands.
Switzerland Will See Its First Legal Cannabis Pilot Program
In 2020, the Swiss Parliament approved a change to the current narcotics law. This allowed studies of recreational cannabis in major cities to be conducted legally. As a result, in 2022, Switzerland’s largest city Zurich will start a trial program allowing citizens access to adult-use, recreational cannabis in social clubs and pharmacies. The three-and-a-half-year pilot program, entitled “Züri Can – Cannabis with Responsibility,” will be monitored by the psychiatric hospital at the University of Zurich and will begin in autumn 2022.
Italy Poised to Vote on Cannabis Reform in Spring 2022
Activists in Italy have been gathering signatures to get an initiative to legalize the personal cultivation of cannabis on the ballot in 2022. The referendum was originally filed in September 2021 and has garnered over half a million signatures.
However, gathering the signatures was merely the first step. The petition must go through a review process by Italian courts to ensure the signatures are valid and that the ballot initiative does not conflict with the Constitution, the fiscal system, or any international treaties. If the courts allow the referendum to move forward, voters will get the opportunity to decide on the policy change sometime in the spring of 2022. It would be a meaningful first step toward cannabis liberalization in Italy.
Malta was a trailblazer of legal cannabis in 2021. Soon, Malta will be in good company with various other European nations looking to take steps toward legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis. Going into 2022, the legal cannabis industry will watch these five countries’ approaches to reforming drug policy. Soon, the legal cannabis industry will have the opportunity to expand in several large, new markets. This growth and the move away from criminalization will ultimately benefit patients, investors, the legal cannabis industry, and society.