Luca Contrino asses the current state of legislation in relation to cannabis usage and if there is a case for EU wide legalisation.
With Canada’s Senate approving Bill C-45 (aka the Cannabis Act), a G7 nation has legalised recreational cannabis. Adding California’s circa 39 million inhabitants to Canada’s 36 million, and the number of people living in jurisdictions with legal recreational Cannabis has increased by over 75 million this year alone, and many US jurisdictions are moving towards legalisation or at least decriminalisation, all this despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance approach and the unchanged status of Marijuana under US federal law (Schedule 1, illegal at the federal level). That said, aside from the Netherlands Spain, and the Czech Republic to an extent, Europe’s Cannabis laws do not provide for recreational use and offer decriminalisation at best, and at worst, several European states maintain a zero-tolerance policy to Marijuana, even for medical use.
There are good reasons to move towards coherent policies across Europe, and a pathway to recreational legalisation is highly desirable. However, with the reactionary electoral turn fuelled by fears of migration, reactionary attitudes to other issues that were out of the spotlight have been allowed to gain an advantage. For example, in Italy, where the drug is decriminalised and medicinal use is legal as is the purchase of light cannabis in small quantities from tobacco shops, Lorenzo Fontana, the ultraconservative Minister of Family and Disability has stressed a zero-tolerance approach to drug use and supports the introduction of punitive measures against users. Not only would this be ethically dubious, but it would be fundamentally counter-productive in both social and economic terms. Without further ado, I would like to outline why common moves to establish a legal market for both recreational and medicinal cannabis across Europe would be highly beneficial in ways that may be obvious but also producing positive results that may be more unexpected.
Green is the colour of money
The first advantage, and perhaps the most well-documented, is the economic boost. The London-based Cannabis consultancy Prohibition Partners estimates the potential yearly value of the combined hypothetical European market at €56 billion, of which €20 billion is recreational. This would mean a significant shot in the arm for many states’ revenues and by extension their national budgets. Considering that many European countries are still struggling with slow economic growth and reduced budgets as a result of the ongoing fallout from the 2008-9 financial crisis, it would be foolish for states to ignore this revenue stream. The number of jobs this would create directly and indirectly is also a major positive. Eurostat states an overall EU unemployment rate of 7.3% as of May 2018, but it hides huge disparities between regions (as low as 2.3% in the Czech Republic and 20.1% in Greece), with youth unemployment and poor quality, precarious employment also ongoing problems. Coldiretti, Italy’s main agricultural trade union, estimates that the medicinal market alone could generate ten tousand jobs and be worth €1.4 billion just in Italy alone. On the basis of such reasoning, one could expect hundreds of thousands of direct jobs relating to legal cannabis covering cultivation, elaboration into specific products, regulatory bodies, sales, licensing, etc. All this while not forgetting many more indirect jobs to be created across Europe if well-regulated medical and recreational industries are established.
A safer society
From a social perspective, cannabis legalisation would bring enormous social benefits. First of all, if the hypothetical European market is worth 56€ billion, legalisation would mean depriving organised crime of a similar sum of money on a yearly basis, weakening many such groups and their scope of operations. That many of those who oppose legalisation also bang the drum for “security” and “law and order”, indicates that they either never thought of this, or wish to simply ignore this fact to push their own agendas. Doing so across an entire continent could deal organised crime a serious blow, and reduce its influence among politicians and the wider public, or at least force it out into the open as is struggles to retain revenue streams. Furthermore, legalisation would free up considerable law enforcement time and resources to tackle more pressing issues as police forces would not need to conduct raids and process users or dealers (and their revenues) with the same frequency. That is to say, legalisation could have a positive knock-on effect on the incidence of other crimes.
It would also allow previously criminalised users and small-time dealers the possibility to reinsert themselves into society with less fear of legal repercussions. Additionally, it would allow those wishing to quit using cannabis to seek treatment without fear of being reported to authorities, thus potentially allowing the rate of use to decrease. Interestingly, the possibility for a regulatory regime could be established which would limit the potency available on the market and avoid consumers being exposed to excessively potent strains such as Skunk, which can induce psychotic episodes in some users or dangerous synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice or Black Mamba, which often lead to severe psychosis and even death in some cases. The latter are especially harmful as their chemical content makes them far more powerful that normal cannabis strains, and are often adulterated with added chemicals. While no deaths have been directly attributed to cannabis, a report in the British newspaper, the Guardian, stated that synthetic cannabinoids were linked to 204 deaths in the UK alone in 2015. By having an entire continent being able to use cannabis medicinally the obvious social benefit is the possibility of extending the drug’s medicinal potential across the continent. Thus, by extension legalisation could enable scientific research across the entire Union to further develop medicinal uses and exchange this information without worrying over its legal status in other European countries, which can generate more cooperative research and production of medical solutions tied to the use cannabis.
To conclude, at a time when Europe’s politics is taking an increasingly reactionary turn, this risks the continent falling behind, and is some cases going backwards on issues that could benefit from strong regulation and transparency rather than knee-jerk restrictions for the sake of displays of force. The legalisation of cannabis will not solve all of Europe’s problems nor will it bridge all its divisions. However, it is an issue that an increasing number of jurisdictions elsewhere are proving can be managed in a legal market with clear regulations and supervision, rather than misplaced and hypocritical puritanical attitudes clinging on from the 1950s. There will always be people who seek out dangerous strains or synthetic variables even within a legal market, but the potential to take millions of users out of an illegal market, thus weakening organised crime and generating large revenues where they are sorely needed in a good opportunity to seize.
This is an issue that European countries can resolve in a sensible manner that benefits both the state and individual citizens, whether users of cannabis, medical and recreational or not. Indeed, it requires planning and sensible regulations but it is absolutely doable and will bring long-term benefits if it is implemented.
Don’t let reactionary rhetoric hide or devalue its benefits. Now would be a great time to take advantage of them and bring about constructive change. If we don’t, other jurisdictions will take the lead and we’ll left wondering what we could have achieved.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article in no way seeks to promote or encourage the use of Cannabis. It is simply an argument for legalisation and comprehensive pro-cannabis laws in Europe in reason of the potential benefits this would bring, as per the evidence available. The views expressed here are entirely my own, and in no way do I stand to gain personally from the writing and publication of this article.