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Exploring models for adult use cannabis regulation in Europe

Home » Exploring models for adult use cannabis regulation in Europe

France-based cannabis consultancy Augur Associates has produced a white paper exploring viable models for adult use cannabis regulation in Europe. Cannabis Wealth spoke to CEO Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy to find out more.

Augur Associates recently produced a white paper – the result of two years of research from Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli – highlighting that cannabis policy can combat drug harms and protect human rights whilst also complying with international drug regulations.

In its most recent white paper, Which models for adult use regulation in Europe?, Augur Associates explores the best models for adult use cannabis regulation for implementation in Europe. 

Read more: Crafting cannabis policy to adhere to European and international regulations

The paper posits that the system of prohibition still promoted in the majority of European countries is a failure, and that the legal regulation of recreational cannabis could have a significant impact on long-term economic recovery efforts following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In recognition of the failure of prohibition in reducing drug use, there are currently discussions taking place in a number of European countries regarding the advancement of more progressive cannabis policy including Switzerland, Holland, and more significantly Germany. Malta has also recently become the first European country to legalise adult use. 

Read more: Report calls for UK Government to turbocharge cannabinoid innovation

This need for legal cannabis regulation is a “European emergency”, says Augur Associates, as “the application of a repressive policy towards cannabis is profoundly unequal and affects above all the most vulnerable people: ethnic minorities and the poorer classes.”

The paper states: “However, while legalisation may indeed help to boost the continent’s economy, it will not fully eliminate the current and past effects of punitive measures that have disproportionately affected the most marginalised citizens. It is therefore essential not only to regulate the legal cannabis market, but also to do so fairly.”

How, not if we should legalise cannabis

With the growth in understanding of the medical applications of cannabis, along with a huge shift in public opinion on the use of cannabis over the last few years, Augur Associates says that it should now be a question of how cannabis should be legalised, not if it should be.

Emphasising that learning from past and current global policy success and failures is vital in getting this regulation right, the paper suggests that a responsible approach to legalisation has to phase in change over a period of time, allowing for the monitoring and evaluating of outcomes on key indicators. In this regard, decriminalisation should be a priory to begin with, says Augur Associates. 

Read more: A vision for cannabis tourism in the UK

Jeanroy commented: “We advocate for a decriminalisation policy to come first before anything can be put in place structurally for legal regulation. It’s important to realise that we’ve been living in a primitive environment for the past 100 years or so. We all have reflexes stemming from that era and I think we need to acknowledge that, because some decisions and talking points are directly linked to that point of view.”

One example, says Jeanroy, is the question of THC limits. People often reference the alcohol content of a drink, but this is not entirely translatable to cannabis, says Jeanroy. However, protecting the consumer is often at the forefront of conversations.

Jeanroy continued: “Now the legal market is open there is a very big argumentation in trying to make the product as safe as possible. And so some people will push forward having quasi, if not pharmaceutical-type regulation in terms of quality analysis and compliance for the adult use market. We see that debate happening right now in Germany. 

Read more: Future proofing the UK cannabis industry

“Not only is that a reflex stemming from prohibition – kind of a moral panic that cannabis must be more regulated than what it should actually be in regard to its potential for variability. But it’s also barely hiding the defense of corporate and business interests from from the medical cannabis industry – so, we should be mindful when we want to regulate this market because we we are influenced by decades of unruly and inefficient regulatory behaviours around this topic. 

“We need to escape them before we can do something good.” 

Europe should take advantage that it is late to the party, says Jeanroy, because it is terra incognita – Europe can learn from other countries that are regulating sales of adult use cannabis, as well as from industries such as alcohol and tobacco. 

“We can learn from the first experiences outside of cannabis and then we can learn from the regulations that are happening right now in Uruguay, in the US, in Canada,” said Jeanroy. “We can take out different dimensions from these different experiences because they are regulated differently.

In California, we are learning about issues around taxes and prices, and how to be competitive to the black market. In New York, we can all see how the social investment component of the reform works out, for example, and so all those dimensions need to be taken into account because there are different contexts, and we need to make drug policies that are context based.”

The paper also emphasises that there must be very specific objectives that are a priority. These objectives can diverge, but they will need to streamline the entire decision-making process.

Some of the objectives suggested in the white paper include:

  • Gradually reducing the illicit market
  • Prioritising public health and the protection of minors
  • Enabling the sustainable development of a European cannabis market consistent with the societal challenges targeted by the regulation
  • Sustainable and responsible regulation
  • Regulation for social justice
  • Allowing the development of a cannabis ecosystem respectful of human rights that can become a driver for ecological transition

UN Development Goals

The white paper highlights that a number of different studies have shown that cannabis, and the policies regulating its consumption, are directly linked to at least 64 of the 169 targets in 15 of the 17 sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. 

Specifically, it emphasises that it is essential to reform the current prohibition policies and the marginalisation of other uses of cannabis, such as wellness, therapeutic and non-medical uses, in order to be able to achieve a number of objectives encompassed in the SDGs.

Jeanroy commented: “I don’t think we can fight climate change effectively without drug policy reform – especially cannabis reform. If you don’t regulate the adult use market properly, we see that the illicit market has a terrible impact on ecosystems, whether it’s draining water resources, creating wildlife fires and pollution through different kinds of products that can be used in the different kinds of treatment processes of cultivating cannabis, for example.”

The paper suggests that an excessive model of free trade is “undesirable because the main motivation for most profit-making enterprises – similar to the illegal market – is to increase consumption in order to maximise profits.” 

This motivation can undermine the significant public health and social justice benefits of legal regulation, says the paper, and therefore, “the process of regulation around the private sector should be based on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) guidelines, linked to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Taking this framework approach would allow cannabis legalisation to have a positive impact on the planet.

“It’s the different uses of cannabis that have their impact on the SDGs,” said Jeanroy. “So, the medical use as impact on some and the adult use aspect on others. I think it’s part of a whole and it’s to be taken into consideration among other obviously, measures.”

Tackling global organised crime

As regulations develop black market operators will transition to another substance, so, legalisation of cannabis is not a silver bullet in wiping out organised crime across the globe, warns the paper. 

It emphasises that in order to truly combat organised crime, there must first be major reforms of the global financial system.

The paper states: “Only a vast reform of the global financial system would enable the fight against money laundering.”

Jeanroy commented: “You do see up to a certain level, once you’ve passed on a certain amount of money, the line between licit and illicit doesn’t exist anymore.

“If we want to tackle organised crime and crime in general, this is where we should concentrate our effort. If we had not declared drugs illicit at the beginning of the century, we would not have created that first activity that allows criminal organisations to gain capital in a way that is not possible in any other actions, and allow the organisations to have capital to start off other activities that need capital to start up. 

Usually people get lent the products – so they have credit lines. One example is with Mexico. It was drugs that started off the organisations over there and because of that, they were able to move in all directions, whether it’s trafficking people or kidnapping, for example. 

“Drug money, in general, has helped create transnational organisations that have immense power, are decentralised and are extremely agile. If we cut up their supply for the cannabis market, it may hurt some of them, but for most, it won’t, because they have other revenue streamlines. 

“That’s why it’s not going solve criminal organisation issues or illicit market issues if we just regulate cannabis. It won’t help because it’s the biggest markets in terms of drugs, but it won’t resolve everything.”

One example of this is the declaration by the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime at the time, Antonio Maria Costa, who declared in 2009 that proceeds from global organised crime were the only liquid capital available to banks during the 2008 financial crisis, keeping the financial system afloat. As reported by The Guardian, £216bn of money from illicit drug sales was absorbed into the global financial system, preventing some banks from collapsing.

“So if we take that into account, we understand that things are relevant depending on the scope you’re looking at,” said Jeanroy. 

Moving forward with progressive policy

The current debates in Germany around regulating the sales of adult use cannabis, along with the recent changes implemented by Malta, are just the first ripples in the tide of regulatory change sweeping over Europe.

However, there are currently a lot of questions in the German debate that are not being asked the right way, or not being asked at all, says Jeanroy.  

“This report is really to avoid discussions of issues that we already know the answers to, and to avoid mistakes,” commented Jeanroy. 

“Hopefully, the debates will be quite thorough and they won’t be pushing to do something too fast. The report has been made to help. Germany has a tremendous responsibility because it is going to set norms.”

The paper argues that a choice must be made: “the cannabis trade can either be left to criminal organisations or legally controlled by a public body.” 

It states: “The time has come today for more accountability on the impact of prohibition. While climate change and human rights issues remain intertwined with the question of cannabis, this pressing societal and structural topic demands that all relevant stakeholders examine and discuss interdisciplinary data, in order to attempt to find consensus on the most appropriate methods of reform via regulation which will vary from one country to another, depending on local contexts and needs.”

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