Laws regarding marijuana are quickly changing in the U.S. But what about marijuana in Europe, where some countries are known for being rather liberal?
Well, European cannabis progress isn’t advancing as fast as in the U.S., especially on the recreational side. Even medical marijuana can be very hard to get. So, what could Europe learn from the United States about marijuana?
The recreational use of marijuana in Europe
First, let’s have a look at the laws in some European countries regarding the recreational use of marijuana.
- Austria decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of marijuana for personal use. Growing, selling or distributing are punishable by up to five years imprisonment, depending on the quantity of product.
- Belgium allows adults (18+) to possess up to three grams of marijuana. Selling or transporting the product, however, is still illegal.
- In Finland, recreational marijuana is illegal.
- In The Netherlands, the sale of marijuana outside of licensed coffeeshops is illegal. Inside the shops it’s still technically illegal, but it’s tolerated. One can grow up to five plants at home for personal use, though if discovered, the plants will most likely be destroyed. But even in that scenario the owner will not be prosecuted.
- In France, whether you consume marijuana or heroin, the law is the same. An individual could be sent to prison for a year, and be forced to pay a € 3,750 ($4,642) fine for consuming marijuana, or any other drug. But in reality, judges tend to take into account whether you’ve been arrested for the first time, and the danger of the drug in question.
Medical marijuana in Europe
Now, let’s focus on the medical marijuana laws in the Netherlands, Germany, and France. These are three countries in which there’s always a lot of debate about whether or not to soften the cannabis regulations. Other countries, like Italy, Finland and Spain have also legalized the use of medical marijuana, even though they all have their own complex rules.
In the Netherlands, medical marijuana is legal, but you have to get a new prescription every time you go to the pharmacy. In 2017, doctors prescribed medical marijuana more than 50,000 times — this in a country of roughly 17 million people.
Germany now allows medical marijuana to be prescribed by doctors for over 30 ailments. However, German medical marijuana can only be distributed through pharmacies, and only doctors get to decide which cannabis consumption method you're entitled to.
In France it’s a lot harder to get medical marijuana. Only a few dozen people have a prescription for synthetic THC. Dried flowers can also be prescribed, but they don’t have an official authorization to be sold. Therefore, doctors risk being prosecuted if the patient has any ill side effects.
What Europe can learn from the United States
The first step for European countries would be to allow more open and regular access to medical marijuana. Second, medical marijuana laws should allow patients the opportunity to access a myriad of products, so they can test them and see which ones deliver the best outcomes for them individually. And third, taxes collected from medical marijuana sales should help fund addiction treatment programs as they do in a handful of U.S. states.
Although not all American states allow medical marijuana, the states that have more liberalized regulations are able to better promote the well-being of patients in need. And that’s something we should all care about.
Legalization of recreational use would be a big plus, of course, and by watching how the matter is being addressed in the U.S. — not to mention by their Canadian neighbors — Europeans have multiple roadmaps to emulate.