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Positive Regulatory Developments In Portugal, Belgium And The Netherlands Show ‘Global Winds are Changing Fast’ For Cannabis Reform

Following a period of relative regulatory stagnation and mounting financial pressure, the global cannabis industry has seen a flurry of promising developments over the past month providing hope for investors and industry stakeholders alike. 

News of a potential federal rescheduling of cannabis in the US has sparked optimism that cannabis operators may soon gain access to capital and institutional investment that it so sorely needs.

This growing positive sentiment from across the Atlantic has been bolstered by a string of regulatory developments throughout Europe, painting a promising picture for the industry in the year to come. 


Portugal takes major step toward adult use

This week has seen Portugal take a sharp turn towards cannabis reform, with the dominant Socialist Party announcing plans to create a working group for adult-use legalisation, and almost all parties voicing their support for regulation at a subsequent conference.

Portugal has long been a leading light in cannabis liberalisation in Europe, becoming one of the first countries to decriminalise in 2000.

It has since become a key location in European cannabis with a number of major companies investing significantly, taking advantage of its ideal growing conditions, favourable regulatory environment and proximity to other key European markets.

Now, this international interest is likely to be ramped up further, following news that the leader of Portugal’s Socialist Party (which currently holds a majority in government), Eurico Brilhante Dias, has announced plans to form a working group to discuss and explore the regulation of adult-use cannabis.

The working group, to be established within the Health Committee, will engage with experts and stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive analysis, and aims to conclude its investigation by the end of the year.

At the end of this process, the socialist party says it will consider launching a legislative initiative to regulate a recreational cannabis market, and plans to do so in collaboration with other parliamentary parties.

This cross-party collaboration appears to be a likely scenario, based on the vocal support for regulation over prohibitionism from the majority of participants during Tuesday’s (September 19) debate, Exposure to Cannabis in Adolescence and Health. 

According to local cannabis publication Cannareporter, all parties other than the right-wing populist Chega party expressed their openness to cannabis regulation.

While there was consensus on the failure of prohibition, there was less common ground in terms of how an adult-use market should be effectively regulated.

Somai Pharmaceuticals Michael Sassano told Business of Cannabis: “Discussions like Portugal’s decision to move forward with studying to legalising adult-use cannabis and other discussions around legalising medical cannabis are being taken up by most EU countries more progressively than ever before.

“Much has to do with the potential USA rescheduling to Schedule 3 and the German descheduling of a narcotic. Global winds are changing fast, and Portugal is still very much at the top of the list as a potential new country moving towards legalising cannabis”.

Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister calls for legalisation

These global winds of change have also blown across Belgium, after the Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne publicly called for the country to consider legalising cannabis earlier this month.

Speaking to Flemish news publication De Morgen, Mr Dermange, who is also the Minister of the Economy and Employment, pointed to Belgium’s three neighbouring countries, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, all of which are pushing ahead with cannabis reform.

“When we talk about the drug problem in Belgium, a radical reform comes to mind: we have to consider the legalisation of cannabis,” he said.

“Simply decriminalising cannabis use makes no sense to me. We need to legalise in order to organise the cultivation and sale, which will also generate revenue for the state.”

The comments came as Mr Dermange was discussing how to tackle the drug and security problem faced by the country’s larger cities like Brussels and Antwerp, with the police and justice department already being allocated a budget of an extra €1bn.

However, the minister suggested that it wasn’t simply enough to increase funding, but that resources needed to be used more efficiently.

He continued that it ‘no longer makes sense’ to ask the police to prosecute cannabis users, as ‘this repression doesn’t work’.

Furthermore, he suggested that regulation and taxation could net Belgium around €660 million a year, ‘money that can be used for police justice prevention’.

The Netherlands finally sets date for start of its adult-use pilot programme

In further positive news from Europe, Belgium’s neighbour the Netherlands has finally offered an update on its long-anticipated adult-use pilot programme.

Originally approved by the senate in 2019, the trial was initially scheduled to begin in 2021, but was delayed late last year until the second quarter of 2023, and has since been pushed back further.

While cannabis sale and consumption has been effectively decriminalised in the country, enabling coffee shops to sell cannabis freely, the cultivation of cannabis remains tightly controlled, forcing these coffee shops to turn to the illicit market for supply.

The trial will enable 10 local cultivators to legally grow cannabis for four years for coffee shops in 10 Dutch municipalities.

These growers have struggled to secure adequate banking facilities, have had issues with high costs of energy and raw materials, as well as establishing an effective track and trace system, leading to the continued delays.

However, these delays now appear to have come to an end, with the government confirming plans to officially launch the trial on December 15 this year.

The first phase of the pilot programme will see selected coffee shops in the Breda and Tilburg municipalities receive cannabis from two licensed cultivators, before

A six week transition period will also be imposed in which coffee shops will be able to continue sourcing cannabis from their existing illicit suppliers.

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