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how cannabis laws are relaxing around the world

2024-04-02 15:58:55

Is cannabis prohibition going up in smoke? After Canada and California in 2018, on April 1, 2024, Germany became the most populated territory in the world to legalize the recreational consumption of cannabis, further cracking the international consensus that had existed on this issue for more than a century.

This approach was still far-fetched when Uruguay opened the way, in 2013, by legalizing the cultivation and consumption of the plant in a controlled manner. If this drug
Sweet has been consumed for centuries in different forms for recreational or therapeutic uses, it was prohibited in almost all countries in the world.

But contrary to popular belief, this state of affairs was relatively recent in human history. One of the first cannabis prohibition laws was passed in Egypt in 1868, but most Western countries did not follow suit until the 1920s or 1930s. Prohibition did not truly go global until after the war, as the Transnational Institute points out in a report on the issue.

Cannabis legalized for 4% of the world population

At the turn of the 21st century, the observation of failure with regard to repressive policies led the authorities of several countries to question the advisability of other alternative policies, based on the following idea: since we do not We cannot stop trafficking and dissuade consumers, but let us accept this consumption to better understand it and improve prevention.

If the question of legalization agitates the political debate in many countries, there are still few who take the plunge. According to our calculations, around 300 million people live in states or territories that have legalized cannabis, or just under 4% of the world’s population.

Decriminalization, an attractive intermediate solution

On the other hand, a large number of governments have made another choice to loosen the repressive stranglehold: decriminalization. The consumption or cultivation of cannabis remains officially illegal, but it is tolerated or subject to much lighter penalties, ranging from a simple fine to community service, including the prescription of a detoxification cure. In the vast majority of cases, this tolerance policy is reserved for personal drug consumption, in small quantities, and does not exonerate traffickers. It also often maintains significant constraints for users (ban on smoking in public in Spain and Ukraine, penalties for repeat offenses in Italy, Israel and Latvia, etc.).

This intermediate solution, generally motivated by pragmatic aims, has attracted many governments in Europe and America since the beginning of the century. For several American states, this represented a first step before outright legalization.

Therapeutic cannabis still not easily accessible

Beyond the recreational issue, the question of cannabis also arises on a medical level. Many patients, in fact, demand access to marijuana or cannabis derivatives not to “get high” but to treat or alleviate pain, nausea, vomiting or lack of appetite. This use, already known among the Romans and rediscovered in the mid-19th century by the Irish doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, is supported by recent research, which shows that it can be used as a bronchodilator (for asthma), antispasmodic (Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis) or as a vasodilator (for glaucoma).

This progressive recognition of the therapeutic virtues of cannabis has led, in recent years, many governments to change their legislation to make it accessible to patients. But behind the forty countries concerned by “therapeutic cannabis” there is a wide variety of situations: it is sold in pharmacies without a prescription in North Macedonia, cultivated by the army in Italy, accessible only by prescription in Argentina, and only in spray form in Brazil. In Hungary, certain cannabis-based medicines are accessible to patients with multiple sclerosis, but only after validation, on a case-by-case basis, from the authorities.

France isolated in Europe

France, although often cited as Europe’s largest consumer of cannabis – particularly in its recreational version – is almost an exception on the continent. No French government has ever moved towards decriminalization or legalization. Even if the Macronist majority relaxed the penal response in 2020 for the simple consumption of cannabis, now punishable by a fixed fine, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, assumes a repressive logic. At the start of 2024, he announced that he wanted “type the policy of supply as much as that of demand” and proposed extending saliva tests on public roads.

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Only therapeutic use has been legal in France since 2013. But this official legalization is, in fact, entirely relative: only Sativex, one of the drugs often used to treat multiple sclerosis, has received marketing authorization. on the market in 2014 – but it is still not marketed in France due to lack of agreement between its manufacturer and the State. As for Marinol, it has been accessible by individual exemption since the beginning of the 2000s. This situation, regularly criticized by associations and certain health professionals, is beginning to appear as an exception in Europe, where legislation has been greatly relaxed since the early 2000s.

This article is an update of a previous version published in 2018.

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