Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Opinion

Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

  • If there is an EU country that can shift from prohibition to legal regulation and succeed, it is Luxembourg - where there are strong institutions, informed and empowered citizens, and trust between the people and their representatives (Photo: Flickr)

The announcement that Luxembourg would legalise and regulate cannabis for recreational purposes attracted much media attention this summer.

Similar to the outcome of similar discussions that took place in Canada, Uruguay, and many US states, Luxembourg authorities reached the conclusion that the prohibition of cannabis had failed to achieve any of its objectives, namely the elimination of the use, cultivation and trafficking in cannabis.

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In fact, the substance is more available, more potent and more consumed than ever.

This is groundbreaking news, as Luxembourg will be the first European country to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis (the Netherlands has a policy of de facto regulation of sale and consumption only), with all the implications this holds.

More importantly perhaps, if there is an EU country that can shift from prohibition to legal regulation and succeed, it is Luxembourg, where there are strong institutions, informed and empowered citizens, and trust between the people and their representatives.

Of course, this raises challenges for the EU and its three million cannabis consumers.

The decision to restrict sales to Luxembourg adult residents responds clearly to any issues related to border control and will minimise, if not prevent, cannabis tourism.

However, there will also be a need to manage the impact on the illegal trade in terms of product quality, trade routes and displacement due to a balloon effect: as the illegal market is pushed out of Luxembourg, it will most certainly shift to neighbouring countries just as the air compressed in a balloon at one end appears at the other.

Social and health issues may also become more severe in border regions, with higher rates of use and increased trafficking. This could require a different approach to transnational law-enforcement cooperation.

But the real question remains: are these issues for Luxembourg only, which is simply changing a failed policy of prohibition, or are they not also issues for its neighbouring countries, which refuse the evidence of the failure of their repressive policies and prefer to maintain their position in order to appear tough on crime?

The reality is that Luxembourg is embracing a policy that responds to the needs of its citizens who consume cannabis.

What about neighbours?

The onus is now on neighbouring governments to provide the same legal protective environment to their citizens who produce or use cannabis, or to continue to prohibit it and be forced to manage, regardless of the astronomical costs for their economies and youth, the unintended negative consequences of prohibition.

Many people (if not most) see this move as 'liberalising' or 'softening' the response to drugs, and to cannabis more specifically.

Yet, legally-regulating drugs transcends partisan politics, in the same way prohibition does.

A conservative view should support regulation as stripping the criminal justice system of its role in imposing straitjacket prohibition on citizens and developing a legal model of sale and consumption that respects individual rights and civil liberties.

It would also consider a minimal regulatory role by the state and a maximal accountability of clients if they hurt others with their use.

A left-wing reading of regulation is based on a big role for government, which aims to provide equal access to health, social and justice services for citizens; and establishes a general framework of access to the substance under strict control. This approach would be systemic, with the state regulating every aspect from production to sale, including consumption.

The discussion here should be therefore on government removing the market from organised crime and its key role in regulating all aspects of the sale and distribution of cannabis, including product quality, quantity limitations, points of sale and eligible consumers and clients.

Authorities in Luxembourg appear cognizant of these challenges and not just looking at the economic and social opportunities.

They seem to be approaching the design of a legal framework as they might any risky product or behaviour, based on best practice examples from Canada, Portugal and the Netherlands and learning about their successes and mistakes.

They are examining carefully how to address issues of age limits, what to do with underage consumption, whether or not to allow use in public spaces, and how to regulate production.

Finally, authorities are encouraging an open debate, inviting input from all parties concerned, from researchers and consumers to parents and health practitioners.

The new Luxembourg cannabis policy, when implemented, must be assessed in a multidisciplinary manner and allow for its parameters to be reviewed and correct course as needed.

Thus, the country will provide other European countries, and beyond, with one of the most solid, well built and scientifically evaluated regulatory framework of legal cannabis for recreational purposes and for adults.

Author bio

Khalid Tinasti is a research fellow at the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva, and the executive secretary of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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