EARLIER this month representatives from all 27 EU member states, alongside non-governmental experts, NGO’s and private sector representatives, came together in Prague for the annual National Drug Coordinators meeting.
The meeting, which is organised and hosted by the country holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, was this year centred around ‘cannabis policy’, specifically decriminalisation, destigmatisation, and harm reduction.
It comes at a crucial moment for both the Czech Republic (Czechia), which will soon consider draft legislation to fully legalise and regulate recreational cannabis, and the rest of the EU as cannabis liberalisation continues to sweep the continent.
Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy, CEO of cannabis consulting firm Augur Associates, told BusinessCann the event was ‘historical’, and marked a ‘victory for the concrete opening of the debate at the EU level in between sovereign member states.’
The National Drugs Coordinators Meeting
Czechia’s National Drug Coordinator and Jindřich Vobořil, the same man preparing a new draft law to allow the cultivation, sale and purchase of cannabis for recreational purposes, organised the event alongside the country’s Department of Drug Policy.
The conference featured presentations from experts from Malta, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany, all countries tackling cannabis liberalisation in different way, offering their ‘national perspective’ on the best route forward.
Other private sector representatives and experts including Boris Banas, delegates from European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Augur Associates and others were also given the chance to present their views on how a European recreational cannabis industry could and should look.
Mr Jeanroy, who presented his company’s recent report exploring viable models for adult-use regulation, said: “Beyond being able to listen to lessons learned through testimonies from Thailand, California and our report, I believe it was for a number of countries, the possibility to envision concrete steps in their respective reform processes.
“It was courageous of them to organise a high level meeting, with representatives for drug policy from all the EU 27 member states, on such a topic, but also to integrate non-governmental voices coming from the NGO and private sectors. Finally, the elephant in the room is being seriously discussed.”
Michel Kazatchkin from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, told the Czech News Agency that the Czech EU presidency meant that this debate was now reaching a ‘political level’.
“We have been trying to do this for over a decade. There are many legal complications. But I believe there will be a shift in understanding in Europe and the world, and a regulated cannabis market will be in place,”
Czechia’s Push for Legalisation
On January 1 2022, Czechia made major changes to its medical cannabis legislation, significantly streamlining the prescription process and increasing access for its rapidly expanding medical cannabis market.
This came off the back of 63% growth in medical cannabis sales throughout 2021, and a 22.5% growth in patient numbers to 4601, a dramatic increase on the 434 patients reported in 2019.
Cannabis home cultivation and possession has also been decriminalised since 2010, helping the country gain a reputation as one of the most cannabis-liberal states in the region.
Now, Mr Vobořil is pushing for further liberalisation, and is preparing a draft law for a regulated cannabis market in Czechia which he plans to submit by the end of the year, with expectations it will be considered by the Government in early 2023.
The bill is understood to already have the support of Prime Minister Petr Fiala, according to reports from iDnes.cz, but is not expected to pass unchallenged.
Members of the SPD and ANO parties are reportedly already voicing their opposition to the bill, arguing it endangers the younger generation, while the head of Czechia’s National Anti-Drug Headquarters has said that regulation would not impact use, but only production and distribution.
Augur Associates Report
The consultancy firm’s recent whitepaper, published in June, was presented and debated at the conference, its general tone echoing the arguments of Mr Vobořil that prohibition ‘is always an extreme effort and does not seem to bring enough benefits’.
The report goes further, arguing that while there are ‘harmful consequences of cannabis legalisation’, the question should ‘no longer be whether to legalise, but how to do so’.
Following a close examination of nations who have attempted cannabis legalisation in some form, like Uruguay, Canada, and US states, alongside other examples from Spain and the Netherlands, the report lays out a number of key goals legalisation strategy should have, and proceeds to offer concrete steps to achieve this.
These include, first and foremost, ‘drying up the black market’, protecting young users and addressing problematic use, and ensuring the market is sustainable.
Mr Jeanroy added: “Hopefully with the report, there are dimensions that were not on the radar that are starting to become better perceived.”
He explained that the ‘hardest part of the report’ for many countries is not the ‘social dimension’, which encourages policy makers to actively encourage the conversion of black market actors among other things, but rather ‘getting rid of prohibitionist reflexes stemming from more than a century of prohibition’.
“Arbitrary rules such as THC or type of distribution outlets limitations, etc. Wanting to over-regulate because the stigma is still pregnant, such as in the case of pharmaceutical quality standards and other market barriers. These conditions are quite preoccupying because they will not allow countries to achieve their objectives, notably of drying up the illicit market.
“Ultimately time is of the essence if we ought to develop a sustainable European industry. Global commerce is around the corner and Europe will only survive by proposing high quality products.”