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Globalized Cannabis: The State of Cannabis in Other Countries

Drying CannabisWhile the cannabis industry in America has had a varied and intense history in our country’s politics, society, and medicine, we should remember that countries all over the world have their own cannabis histories, too. Following the recent presidential election, the snapshot of America’s recreational and medicinal cannabis has revealed an amalgamation of states that share legalization efforts in the face of a staunch and uncertain federal landscape. Let’s take a look at where some of our neighboring countries stand in 2017.

Canada

Canadian Parliament wants to legalize cannabis in the country by spring of 2017. Pursuant to new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign promise to bring recreational cannabis legalization to the country, Canada formed a national task force dubbed the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation to head the effort.

The Task Force, formed with the intent of providing recommendations on how best to pursue the legalization, regulation, and restriction of recreational cannabis in the country, recently issued eighty recommendations for the country’s foray into the legalization process and subsequent legislative action. The highly anticipated report titled, “A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis Canada,” was published on December 13, 2016 and covered a long list of items that the Task Force advised the Canadian Parliament to take into consideration when developing and enacting the legislation that would potentially bring the substance out of prohibition.

Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001 and is under strict regulation and enforcement. Licensed producers of medical cannabis in the country are currently required to undergo a rigorous approval process that is prohibitive to a larger swath of potential cannabis growers. Recreational use, growth, and possession of cannabis was banned in Canada in the early 20th century.

The Task Force sought the advisement of several bodies, including government officials at the provincial, territorial, and municipal level (similar to state governance in the U.S.), experts in law and in medicine, and even representatives from areas where recreational cannabis has been legalized (i.e. American states like Colorado and Washington).

Like jurisdictions in America which have legalized recreational cannabis, the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation developed a number of their recommendations regarding cannabis based upon their experience in regulating alcohol and tobacco in the country.

The Task Force’s published report touches on several key tenets that are shared with other governments that have legalized recreational cannabis. These include:

    • Preventing minors from obtaining the substances through a number of education programs and checks
    • Establishing rules for personal growth, use, and possession of cannabis
    • Restrictions on advertising and labeling (similar to those in place on alcohol and tobacco products for public health and safety)
    • Establishing tax structures for the sale and growth of cannabis by businesses
    • Controlling the density of cannabis manufacturers in a given area
    • Differentiating the medical and recreational cannabis frameworks
    • The provision that local provinces, territories, and municipalities should be able to enact stricter local legislation than what is in place at the federal level

Now that the report is out, the next step will be the presentation of proposed legislation to Parliament in spring of 2017. Canadian law dictates that any new federal laws must go through a formal legislative process which begins with the first reading of a bill in the House of Commons, followed by the second reading which is accompanied by discussion and debate in the House of Commons. After all has been said, a vote is taken in the House of Commons to determine whether or not the bill will move to the Committee stage where the bill is picked apart line item by line item. More debate and collaboration between Committee and House of Commons ensue during the third reading. There is still another layer of approval at the Senate, and yet another necessity of Royal Assent (remember, Canada is under the Queen), and then Canada will have a new law.

Given the intensive and complex legislative approval process now standing before the introduction of this bill, it’s very possible that Canada won’t see any real action for a few years. Hopefully, that will happen before the next federal election, as Prime Minister Trudeau’s administration is perhaps the friendliest climate for recreational cannabis legislation that cannabis has seen and may see for some time.

Germany

On January 19, 2017, Germany legalized medicinal marijuana for the country. The law is set to be put into effect in March of this year.

Under the new law, patients suffering from a number of serious and intractable maladies including multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy are now eligible to receive prescriptions from their doctors for medical cannabis. Health insurance providers will also be required to cover the costs of cannabis for those patients who qualify with their physician’s prescription.

Up until the new legislation from German parliament (or Bundestag), only about 1,000 people had access to medical cannabis for serious medical conditions. Use of the drug was severely restricted throughout the country.

This new law expands the potential patient demographic that can have medical access to cannabis and provides for eventual establishment of state-supervised cannabis cultivation. There is a provision which allows private manufacturers to apply for licensing, but the approval process will be extremely strict.

Representatives of the recent legislation have emphasized that this law’s passage should not be taken as a first step along the road to recreational legalization. They are adamant about their stance that this is a common sense law which allows a lower threshold of access to a beneficial drug for patients whose symptoms and illnesses improve from cannabis therapy.

Britain

Britain still operates under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which outlaws recreational cannabis and makes it a punishable criminal offense. Just as the DEA in the United States classifies drugs under various schedules based on a specific set of criteria, the United Kingdom classifies drugs under Classes A, B, and C, with cannabis falling under Class B. There have been several calls for the substance’s reclassification from Class B to Class C in order to allow a larger patient demographic to benefit from the drug and to decriminalize the drug. (Cannabis was briefly moved into Class C between 2004 and 2009, but was subsequently returned to Class B.)

However, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recently opined that products containing cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic cannabinoid which does not produce psychoactive effects in the body, are of medicinal value and can thusly be treated as other medicinal products in the country by undergoing the same licensing and regulating parameters.

Under current English and Welsh law, cannabis as a whole product is not recognized as a substance with therapeutic value.

Currently, individuals with multiple sclerosis can be prescribed medications that contain CBD and THC, but the MHRA’s recent opinion suggests that CBD should be licensed to treat a larger range of medical conditions including anxiety and chronic pain. The licensing process for manufacturing, sale, and distribution would involve clinical trials.

There have been attempts to bring cannabis legislation and regulation to the federal level for debate and passage by the government, but none have come to fruition. The most recent was a petition to make the production, sale, and use of cannabis legal. Headed by James Richard Owen, the petition got over 225,000 signatures and made its way to Parliament for review in Fall of 2015. Though lively debate was had on both sides, no further action was taken.

France

The production, possession, sale, purchase, and use of cannabis is illegal in France on both the recreational and medicinal levels, and has been illegal since 1970. Punishment is based upon the context of the offense, the offender’s background, and the amount of substance in question.

In June 2013, the country published a decree which executed a slight amendment to the Public Health Code which authorized cannabis-based medicine, but not medicinal cannabis as a whole. This distinction means that medical products that contain CBD or THC compounds are allowable, but personal use of a straight cannabis product is not.

In general, French law makes it illegal to depict drugs in any positive light, as this is considered willful encouragement of drug consumption in the general public.

France is a highly cannabis-friendly society though, with a significant number of citizens having tried cannabis at least once, 2% of the population reportedly using daily, and twice that amount (nearly 1.5 million individuals) smoking at least 10 joints a month–and these are numbers from France’s Public Health Agency. The government has not turned a blind eye to the discrepancy between its countrymen and the laws which govern. Strikingly, France has the highest percentage of 15-year-old cannabis users among 42 well-off nations according to the World Health Organization.

The French government proposed a bill in 2015 which allowed state-controlled sale and use of cannabis, but Parliament did not move the bill forward towards approval and passage.

Netherlands

Cannabis is decriminalized in the Netherlands, one of the most famously cannabis-friendly countries both in practice and in law. While use and possession of cannabis is not considered a criminal offense, the production and commercialization of the substance are still illegal.

This so-called “policy of tolerance” came about as a result of the country’s 1972 “Struggle About Hemp” report which called for more federal resources to police against heroin, and for exclusion of cannabis and hash from criminal prosecution as soon as possible. In 1976, the Opium Act was passed, essentially making a distinction between how soft and hard drugs were to be treated in the country. Soft drugs, such as cannabis, are thusly tolerated for personal use, both medicinally and recreationally, whereas hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are not tolerated at any level.

With the passage of decriminalization in the 70s, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to adopt such a stance.

Since the federal law still dictates that sale of these soft drugs is illegal, The Netherlands have structured the law in such a way that allows for the use and sale of cannabis in restricted amounts by coffee shops so long as they observe very specific regulations that include exclusion of sale to minors, no advertising, and no hard drugs.

As is the case with other jurisdictions where recreational cannabis is allowable, local authorities have the freedom to enact stricter rules and regulations in their areas.

With this policy having been in place for the last four decades, many wonder whether the Netherlands will move forwards total legalization some day, but for now, the status quo in the Netherlands is somewhere between the contentious federal landscape in the United States and the full-scale commercial legalization other nations are considering.

Uruguay

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to completely legalize the growth, sale, and use of cannabis. The government has regulations in place for everything from the cultivation and distribution of cannabis to the possession and use of the substance. To date, Uruguay is the only country which has legalized the chain from growth to buying and selling of cannabis (as opposed to legalizing and/or decriminalizing certain parts of that chain as has been done in other countries such as the Netherlands).

With neighboring Brazil and Argentina showing no indication of steps towards legalization or decriminalization, Uruguay aims to mitigate the social, political, and fiscal consequences of prohibitive policies and to have the legalized industry be a boon to the country’s economy.

Australia

We know, we know — Australia is a whole continent. But, in fact, Australia is a nation which spans a continent of the same name. It is composed of several states including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

The Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016, passed in October, was put in place to allow for domestic production of cannabis and cannabis resins for medical and scientific use. The hope was that a regulated domestic supply would substitute for medicinal cannabis products that were not readily available for import.

Following swiftly after, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (an Australian regulatory body under the nation’s Department of Health) moved to reschedule medicinal cannabis into a less restricted category that will allow the substance to be used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.

The changes are set to take effect in 2017, and will allow physicians to write prescriptions for medical cannabis for patients who suffer from illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Under the federal law, each state will determine its rules for who can use cannabis, dispense it, approve it, and at what dosage and in what form cannabis should be allowed.

Recreational use is still illegal, and the Health Ministry has emphasized that these new laws are not intended to decriminalize recreational cannabis use nor as a step towards recreational legalization.

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