Although the possession, use and distribution of most drugs is illegal in Europe, they are still easily accessible - with many individuals enjoying their benefits and others suffering from their consequences. The blackmarket for drugs in Europe has been steadily growing in recent years, and there’s been a 15% increase in the number of drug law offences between the period 2010-2020, more than half of them relating to personal use/possession (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction). At the same time, governments’ attitudes have begun to shift towards recognising the recreational drug market and realising it could be beneficial to the economy if it were regulated, whilst also making the drug scene safer for users.
The legalisation of the entire cannabis value chain was a major part of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s election campaign, and although the government wanted to make progress with their plans, they faced difficulties at an EU legislative level - mainly concerning the Schengen area, with the free movement of goods across national borders. To combat this concern, their initial proposal to the EU Commission specified that Germany would have to prove it could tightly monitor border crossings to respect its neighbouring countries drug policies. Nonetheless, this would have changed the structure and functioning of the Schengen area, having a rippling effect on the entire Union, thus spurring discussion across the EU, with other member states not agreeing with Germany’s proposal. Due to this, Germany had to redraft their proposal, altering it to only having licensed shops selling cannabis, rather than the state controlling the whole value chain. The plan of the German government involves legalising the purchase of up to 30g of marijuana for recreational use and allowing individual cultivation of up to three cannabis plants. As stated by the German health minister, Karl Lauterbach, the aim of the legalisation is not to increase the consumption of the drug, but rather to regulate the market and make it safer, given that drug use has continued to grow regardless of prohibitive legislation.
“We don’t want to expand cannabis consumption but to improve the protection of youth and health” - Karl Lauterbach
Drug regulation, specifically marijana, first emerged in the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, classifying it as a harmful substance. In 1988 the UN required countries’ legal systems to punish ‘the possession, purchase or cultivation of drugs for personal consumption’. This was implemented by all European Member states but to different extents and in different ways. The famous Amsterdam coffeeshops often come to mind when thinking of the more relaxed nations, where although cannabis is not legal, the law is not enforced in relation to small quantities for personal use. In 2018, Malta became the first EU country to legalise the drug for medical and recreational use by adults. The legislation is intended to allow users to obtain cannabis in a regulated way via the creation of non-profit organisations, which can grow and distribute the drug among their participants. Not all members of parliament were supportive of the legalisation, with the Nationalist Party voting against it due to concerns of organised crime taking advantage of the legislative easing. France on the other hand, has some of the most stringent regulation regarding marijana, which is illegal in all forms, and President Macron does not plan on changing the nation’s view on the matter - thus posing a strong resistance to Germany’s plans.
The existence of international drug standards and regulations meant that, if approved, the initial German proposal would have breached both EU and International law. Consequently, Germany would have been required to withdraw from certain conventions, having both legal and political implications for them, with the potential to impact their reputation. Alternatively, they could have chosen to ignore the regulation, however putting them at risk of sanctions. Canada took similar actions when they liberalised their maijuana industry, and as of yet, they haven’t faced serious consequences for ignoring international agreements. Fortunately, Lauterbach believes that the updated proposal is fully in line and legally compatible with the rest of the EU.
What are the economic consequences of legalising cannabis?
First and foremost, this would result in the government gaining control of the market, the initial German proposal involved the whole industry - from the production, to delivery to the final consumer. As a result, the size of the black market would shrink, meaning that more people will be employed in legitimate jobs, ensuring them with a minimum wage (in countries where applicable) thus boosting living standards. It also has the potential to reduce inequalities, as the current drug industry framework often results in the exploitation of the most vulnerable in society. Additionally, this will provide the government with the industry’s tax revenue, which is presently being lost in the black market; a 2021 survey found the legalisation could bring Germany annual tax revenues and cost savings of 4.7 billion euros. In turn, this will boost the economy’s aggregate demand, increasing overall output. On the other hand, the main concerns of legalising recreational drugs regard health issues, as the measure may promote and increase their use, posing greater health threats on the population. This being said, France, which has some of the most conservative policies regarding drugs, also has one of the highest consumption levels in Europe - notably higher than countries with more liberal policies; so is the law really the determining factor for consumption? Additionally, decriminalising doesn’t necessarily imply promoting, as with the German proposals, the advertisement of marijana will not be allowed and the regulation is just intended to make the industry more safe, whilst gaining from the economic benefits.
These propositions show the beginning of a shift in attitude towards recreational drugs, however, whether they will result in a legislative change is another question. The process will of course take time, and at an EU level may require the consensus of nation’s which are currently not supportive of the move. Therefore, the general public opinion and outcome of scientific advancements on the matter will greatly determine the fate of the cannabis industry.
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“Germany’s Move to Legalise Cannabis Slows Over Fears of Clash With EU Laws.” The Guardian, 13 Sept. 2022, www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/12/germany-coalition-legalise-cannabis-laws-eu-euro pean-court-justice.
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