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HomeMedico-Legal AnalysisLuxembourg first in Europe to legalise cannabis; Canada sees mostly good results

Luxembourg first in Europe to legalise cannabis; Canada sees mostly good results

Luxembourg will become the first country in Europe to legalise cannabis, in an effort to tackle the illegal drugs market, writes The Guardian. Meanwhile, the budding coalition in Germany is considering legalising cannabis, reports DW. And in Canada, CBC News finds that after three years, legalisation has created new jobs and tax revenue and reduced drug convictions – but the jury remains out on public health impacts.

The German publication takes a look at some of the countries that have adopted a soft stance towards cannabis, including the Netherlands, Uruguay, Jamaica, Portugal, Canada, the United States, Georgia, South Africa and Mexico. The Canadian story looks at positive effects of cannabis legalisation on the justice system, alongside lack of public health data.


Luxembourg acts to thwart illegal market

Adults in Luxembourg will be permitted to grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes or gardens under laws that will make it the first country in Europe to legalise production and consumption of the drug, writes Daniel Boffey for The Guardian.

The announcement on Friday 22 October by Luxembourg’s government was said to deliver fundamental changes in the country’s approach to recreational cannabis use and cultivation in light of the failure of prohibition to deter use.

Under new legislation, people aged 18 and over will be able to legally grow up to four cannabis plants per household for personal use.

Trade in seeds will be permitted without any limit on the quantity or levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent. The government said it would be possible to buy seeds in shops, to import them or buy them online.

There is also the intention to allow for the domestic production of seeds for commercial purposes but plans for both a national production chain and state-regulated distribution have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice Minister Sam Tanson described the change to the law on domestic production and consumption as a first step, The Guardian reports.

“We thought we had to act, we have an issue with drugs and cannabis is the drug that is most used and is a large part of the illegal market,” she said.

“We want to start by allowing people to grow it at home. The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached. We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”

A legal prohibition of the consumption and transport of cannabis or cannabis products in public will be maintained and trade in cannabis or cannabis products other than seeds remains prohibited, according to The Guardian.

Under a softening of the law, however, the consumption and transport of up to three grams will no longer be considered a criminal offence, but a misdemeanour. Fines would be greatly reduced. “Above three grams, nothing changes, you will be considered a dealer,” Tanson said. “Nothing changes for car drivers either: there is still zero tolerance.”

A system of state-regulated production and distribution is planned to ensure product quality with revenues from sales to be invested “primarily in prevention, education and healthcare in the broad field of addiction,” government sources said.

Link to the full story in The Guardian below.


A roundup of countries that permit recreational cannabis

Marijuana may be an issue of easy agreement in the ongoing coalition talks between Germany's leading political parties, reported DW last week. Despite numerous points of contention, the centre-left Social Democrats, neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens can find themselves aligned when it comes to cannabis legalisation.

The FDP emphasises the revenue that the state could earn from taxing pre-rolled joints, cannabis flower and edibles. The Greens say legalisation would put an end to illegal sales and reduce organised crime. Last Wednesday, Social Democrat health expert Karl Lauterbach urged the next government to legalise cannabis.

DW looks at countries that have already loosened their policies.

Famous Dutch coffee shops

The government of the Netherlands insists that, like other soft drugs, cannabis is tolerated but it is not legal. Still, its recreational use has been decriminalised since 1976, bringing fame to the Netherlands for its liberal attitude in handling marijuana.

Dutch coffee shops can sell up to five grams of soft drugs to each person per day, but they have to follow strict licensing regulations. For example, they are not allowed to serve alcohol. Advertising the coffee shop or drugs is forbidden, and keeping more than 500 grams of soft drugs in the shops' stock is considered a crime.

Uruguay: legal pot for tourists

In 2013, Uruguay made headlines for becoming the first country in the world to fully legalise the nationwide recreational use of cannabis. Since then, non-medical users have been able to register to buy marijuana through one of the three legal forms: home growing, clubs or pharmacies.

Each adult Uruguayan is allowed to grow up to six plants at home, but the harvest must not be more than 480 grams of marijuana per year.

Now, the country is planning to open its weed market to tourists, in an effort to steer tourists away from street sales and into the regulated market.

Jamaica: limitless ritual joints

The island has long been associated with pot and reggae music but it decriminalised possession of small amounts of weed only in 2015, continues DW.

Individuals are allowed to cultivate up to five cannabis plants. Smoking cannabis is legal in licensed dispensaries and private residences. People caught with less than about 50 grams of marijuana face no arrest or criminal record – but they are supposed to pay a small fine unless they have a medical prescription.

Portugal's radical drugs policy

In 2001, Portugal made a radical shift towards drug decriminalisation.

Personal possession of any type of substance is a mere administrative offense. No prison charges or criminal records will follow those who get caught with drugs, Instead, they are asked to register themselves at a rehabilitation centre, pay fines or do community service, depending on the amount of weed in possession.

However, marijuana remains in the same category as heroin. That means people who do not have a prescription for medical marijuana, resort to buying pot from illegal dealers, according to DW.

Canada: Marijuana legalisation and jail populations

The recreational use of cannabis was legalised in Canada in 2018. A state-commissioned 2020 study showed that, despite expectations, the daily consumption of marijuana only increased about 1% for all age groups. Teenagers' daily consumption, which many feared would spike after legalisation, rose about 3%. (See different figures from CBC News below.)

But legalisation made a huge difference in reducing the number of cannabis-related arrests. In 2018, the police recorded 26,402 possession cases until legalisation went into effect in mid-October. In 2019, that number dropped to 46, according to Statistics Canada.

Possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana remains a crime.

US: financial gains in legalisation

A total of 35 states in America have legalised marijuana for medical use, 16 of which allow adults to legally use the substance for recreational use. Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana nearly 10 years ago, writes DW. Since then, a bulk of research has examined the impacts of legalisation on the US economy.

A recent report by the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think-tank, found that in 2020 alone the legal marijuana industry created 77,000 jobs across the US.

The report also highlighted the lucrative tax revenues of the legal marijuana trade. Colorado makes an average of  $20 million a month, and California's collects a monthly average of about $50 million.

Georgia, South Africa and Mexico join the club

The countries of Georgia and South Africa both legalised the recreational use of cannabis in 2018. In March, Mexico's Supreme Court decriminalised the private recreational use of cannabis by adults. Although selling marijuana is not legal in Mexico, the country with 129 million residents may become one of the largest marijuana markets in the world.


The pros, cons and unknowns of legal cannabis in Canada three years later

The legalisation of cannabis in Canada just had its third anniversary, which means it is time for the federal government to review and possibly tweak the policy, writes Richard Raycraft for CBC News in an article published on 24 October.

In some areas, the reviews are positive. Legalisation has resulted in the emergence of a multibillion-dollar industry, new jobs and tax revenue. There have also been fewer cannabis-related drug convictions among young people.

But despite some positive signs, some health experts are concerned that the rapid growth of the industry combined with a lack of recent data about potential public health impacts means some warning signs could be being missed.

“Legalisation is not an on-off switch that occurred,” said Dr Daniel Myran, a public health doctor in Ottawa. “The retail market has matured over time, but at the same time, a lot of the data that we have about what happens after legalisation comes from a very early period."

Cannabis use is up

On 17 October 2018, cannabis became legal in all provinces and territories for adults 18 and over, making Canada just the second country to legalise recreational use of the drug, continues CBC News.

The Cannabis Act, introduced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, had a number of goals. Among them were to keep the drug out of the hands of youth, take profits away from criminals and to protect public health.

Since then, more Canadians seem to be using cannabis.

According to the government’s most recent survey, 27% of participants reported having used marijuana in the past year – an increase from 22% in the first cannabis survey in 2017.

Statistics Canada data suggests that retail sales in 2020 were just over CAN$2.6 billion, which represented a 120% increase compared to 2019.

While there are indications marijuana consumption has gone up, criminal convictions for cannabis-related crimes among youth have dropped dramatically, reports CBC News.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says the effects of cannabis legalisation in this area are significant.

“From the perspective of a criminologist, legalisation has been successful.” However, there are still areas of concern, he said. The economic benefits of legalised cannabis are not being shared equitably, as the industry is disproportionately white and male. And many of those left with criminal records from offences committed prior to legalisation are people of colour. Owusu-Bempah wants to see more records cleared.

Public health impacts

Russell Callaghan, a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, is researching the impacts of legalisation on a range of public health indicators. He says research in that area is still in its early stages, according to CBC News.

What has stuck out to him so far, however, is that many of the concerns around legalised cannabis – including potential increased cases of cannabis-induced psychosis and schizophrenia, and driving under the influence of drugs – have not materialised.

Callaghan’s research into traffic injuries in two provinces does not suggest legalisation has had a significant effect, at least not yet. A recent report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, says the number of drug-impaired driving charges is “extremely low” – accounting for just 11% of the 5,506 impaired driving charges across Canada in 2019.

Challenges ahead

Some experts caution it may be too early to call legalised marijuana an all-round success.

"The research is still quite new, so there's a caveat there," Callaghan said of his work.

Another goal of the Cannabis Act is to protect public health, and on that measure, rising consumption may bring new challenges, the CBC News story continues.

"When we see increases in rates of use, that starts to raise a bit of a warning sign in terms of public health, because we don't want to see more people consuming," said Rebecca Jesseman, the director of policy at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

Callaghan says his ongoing research suggests youth visits to emergency departments because of poisoning or overuse of marijuana may be trending upward “significantly”. That mirrors American trends in states that have legalised marijuana, he said.

But what we know may not be as concerning as what we don't, Jesseman said. “To be honest, it's just too soon,” she said of assessing legal marijuana's effects on public health.

Link to the full CBC News story below.


The Guardian story – Luxembourg first in Europe to legalise growing and using cannabis (Open access)


DW story – A roundup of countries that permit recreational cannabis (Open access)


CBC story – The pros, cons and unknowns of legal cannabis in Canada 3 years later (Open access)


See also from the MedicalBrief archives


Patients hopeful for France's medical cannabis experiment


SA medical and recreational cannabis industry poised to take off


Moves on medical cannabis legalisation divide Africa


Lessons for South Africa from Canada’s cannabis legalisation


Tough cannabis policies do not deter young people – Study





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