The United States is falling behind the rest of the world in its attitudes toward cannabis. As the U.S. legalizes cannabis one state at a time, some European nations are moving to reform marijuana laws.
The United Nations changed the status of cannabis over a year ago as a way to recognize its potential as a therapeutic drug, paving the way for even more countries to end marijuana prohibition. Will America finally see some progress with cannabis reform now that its neighbors and friends are beating it to the punch?
UN Makes a Change
In December 2020 the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis from its previous classification in the international Single Convention On Narcotic Drugs treaty as a harmful drug. Cannabis was classified as Schedule IV alongside problematic compounds like heroin and other addictive opioids. Drugs in Schedule IV are strictly controlled and discouraged for medical purposes. Marijuana was listed under this classification for the last 59 years.
In 2018 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) made recommendations regarding cannabis’ classification. The ECDD advised that cannabis-derived medicines like CBD were known to be beneficial for children with treatment-resistant epilepsy while appearing to have no potential for abuse and should not be controlled by the UN. The committee also recommended the development of regulations for the manufacture of high-THC extracts and removing barriers for scientific study of the health impacts of the drug.
According to the UN, Member States requested time to deliberate over the recommendations and finally voted in December 2020. “Therefore the vote followed two years of intensive and detailed consideration,” said the organization. Member States rejected the recommendation to remove international controls over CBD because there are none currently in place but accepted many others.
The recommendation to remove marijuana from its classification as a Schedule IV drug was accepted although it still remains under Schedule I of the Single Convention—meaning that it is recognized as a dangerous drug that might have therapeutic benefits and is subject to fewer measures of control.
The U.S. notably voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV but keep it categorized under Schedule I, saying the move was “consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions.”
Europe Moves to Legalize
A year after the UN vote to reschedule marijuana, Malta became the first European nation to legalize cannabis for adult use. In December 2021, the Maltese president signed a law that allowed adults 18 and older to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and store up to 50 grams at home. Adults are also allowed to cultivate up to four marijuana plants for personal use. Possessing more than seven grams but less than 28 grams of flower will result in a fine without jail time.
The Malta law doesn’t allow for a regulated cannabis retail market, but it does allow non-profit clubs to grow the plant and distribute it to members. Clubs can have up to 500 members and are limited to distributing seven grams a day to each member with a 50-gram limit each month.
The bill wasn’t a roaring success; it passed on a 36 to 27 vote. Some vocal opponents called on President George Vella to overturn the results. “To date, the president does not have the power to ignore a law that was passed democratically by Parliament, whether he agrees with it or not, unless he has such a serious moral objection that he prefers to pack up and go home rather than sign that law,” he responded in a press release.
In 2018 the Luxembourg government announced it would be legalizing marijuana by 2021. The country had already decriminalized possession of the drug in 1973. In October of last year, the government announced it was introducing legislation that would allow adults to grow cannabis in their homes for personal use. Justice Minister Sam Tanson said, “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.”
Last month Italian officials confirmed that activists had gathered enough signatures to put a cannabis cultivation legalization referendum on ballots sometime after April. The country’s Constitutional Court will first have to make certain that the referendum doesn’t conflict with the Constitution but if it is approved, voters will be able to decide whether to allow adults to cultivate cannabis at home. The referendum curiously retains laws penalizing those possessing or using cannabis, however.
Switzerland announced in October that it would no longer ban the production, cultivation, trade and consumption of cannabis. The government is now developing regulations for a retail market.
One of the biggest announcements on the world cannabis stage was made last November when Germany announced plans to legalize an adult-use cannabis industry. The new coalition government said that an official agreement had been drawn up.
“We are introducing the controlled supply of cannabis to adults for consumption in licensed stores,” wrote the authors of the agreement. “This controls the quality, prevents the transfer of contaminated substances and guarantees the protection of minors.”
The German government is reportedly in the process of developing a retail cannabis market but has yet to unveil the final proposal. By all accounts, it’s moving along quite rapidly and will likely introduce the plan sometime this year—possibly in the coming months.
And across the ocean, the United States stubbornly refuses to let go of its War on Some Drugs, in spite of its own people. Funny world.