Luxembourg, one of Europe’s smallest nations with a population of under 600,000, confirmed recently that it plans to become the first European country to fully legalise the use of cannabis – for both medical and recreational use. Etienne Schneider, who is the health minister of the tiny landlocked country situated between Belgium, France and Germany, has also commented that he plans to encourage other EU countries to follow Luxembourg’s lead.
Speaking to the online political media Politico, Schneider explained that Luxembourg’s governing coalition, which is made up of the Liberal, Social Democrat and Green parties, had reached the decision because:
“this drug policy we had over the last 50 years did not work. Forbidding everything made it just more interesting to young people … I’m hoping all of us will get a more open-minded attitude toward drugs.”
The government has committed to passing full cannabis legalisation legislation within five years. Minors aged between 12 and 17 years of age will not be legally allowed to purchase or consume cannabis under the new legislation. But if caught with under 5 grams of the drug in their possession they will also not face criminal charges. However, beyond that generous buffer, penalties will be harsh. Foreign nationals visiting Luxembourg will also not be permitted to purchase cannabis from vendors legal for locals in order to protect against the negative impact of potential ‘cannabis tourism’.
A state cannabis agency is to be established, which will regulate production and distribution and growing cannabis plants at home is expected to be banned. Draft legislation is expected to be released soon containing details of exactly what kinds of cannabis will be legalised, how they will be allowed to be sold and the tax system that will be imposed on the new market.
Medical cannabis is already legal in Luxembourg and laws relaxed to the point of decriminalisation for anyone found with small amounts of the drug deemed to be for personal recreational use. But the purchase, sale and production of cannabis for recreational use is still illegal.
Luxembourg is trying to learn from Canada’s recent experience of legalising cannabis for both medical and recreational use. Both Mr Schneider and Felix Braz, the country’s justice minister, made a 2018 visit to the North American country which included a visit to a mass cannabis production facility owned by Canopy Growth, a large, private Canadian producer of the drug. In April this year the country also received a visit from representatives of the US NGO Consumer Choice Centre. Recreational use of cannabis is not legal in 11 U.S. states plus Washington D.C., with several more in the process of legalisation. However, it is still illegal on a federal level. The two Consumer Choice Centre representatives were in Luxembourg to offer advice on the legalisation process.
Contrary to public perception, Luxembourg looks like becoming the first European country to legalise cannabis. The Netherlands are often considered to have legalised the drug years ago but it is in fact still illegal and permitted within a framework as part of a ‘tolerance’ policy. Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic are other European nations with a relaxed attitude to the drug, allowing its restricted sale without it being actually legal. Cannabis purchased for recreational use is only fully legal in Canada, Uruguay and 11 U.S. states.