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European Cannabis Laws: Mixed Messages and Confused Citizens

Over the course of the past year or so, there has been a significant shift in the international cannabis debate. In December, the unthinkable became a reality when senators in Uruguay’s Congress voted to legalize the growing, selling and consumption of cannabis.

We at Paradise Seeds obviously celebrated this historic decision, with Uruguayan president, José Mujica, instantly joining our Hall of Fame!

The historic decision, combined with changes taking place in the USA (even the American president said that marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol in a New Yorker interview earlier this year) has turned the spotlight back to Europe.

So, Paradise Seeds, along with millions of cannabis users would like to know: what’s happening Europe?!…

One Europe. Many cannabis laws

In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam took the European Union to a new level of cooperation. At its heart was an emphasis on democracy, which embodied the principles of citizenship and individual rights. It was seen as the blueprint, the way forward for a European community that now includes 28 countries, 24 official languages and over 507,800,000 citizens.

As we know, cannabis laws within the European Union are a grey zone. EU policy is generally defined within the guidelines of the UN Convention on Narcotics (this Convention agreed these guidelines in 1961 – over fifty years ago!) but, in practice, individual states apply their own legal guidelines.

The result of this is that, what is OK in one country is not OK in another, creating a great deal of confusion. What adds to this is that 26 of the 28 member countries are members of the Schengen Area, which allows the free movement of European citizens between countries. This suggests that citizens rights (such as those of medical cannabis card holders) should be respected within the zone, but frequently are not.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has reported that, ‘The legal status of cannabis for personal use is one of the most controversial policy issues in the European Union. In a 2012 report it claimed that -without harmonization of countries policies the EU is a ‘heterogeneous legal map’ – while some countries are tolerant towards cannabis use, other countries will lock you up for it.

Czech Republic – shifting sands

Right now, European cannabis laws are like shifting sands in the desert… Let us focus on the example of the Czech Republic. For many years it had a reputation for tolerance, its capital Prague frequently referred to as the Amsterdam of the East. Paradise Seeds has had a long association with the Cannafest expo, which attracts visitors from all over Europe.

In 2010, a Czech decriminalization law made growing five plants and possession of up to 15 grams no longer a crime, while medical cannabis was legalized in spring 2013. However, the legal situation appeared to change overnight. The decriminalization law was reversed in autumn 2013 and police launched raids on over 50 grow shops in November, making confiscations and arrests.

At the recent Million Marijuana March in Prague, Czech news source iDNES, reported that a 19 year old was arrested for selling seeds and distributing information displaying images showing plants at the event. He now faces up to three years in jail.

The Czech example is disturbing because for many years the country was seen as a leader in the reform movement. It also illustrates that policy inconsistency is often politically motivated. The same happened in the UK, which de-classified cannabis in 2004 (making possession no longer an arrestable crime) only to reclassify in 2009 – against the recommendation of its own advisors.

In the light of events in the Americas, surely it is time for the European Union to re-examine the issue of cannabis and consider reforms which would remove confusion, save many millions of euros in police enforcement and de-criminalize a significant section of the law abiding populations of its member states.

European Citizens’ Initiative for cannabis law change

In the meantime, a group of citizens is aiming to force the EU to reassess its policy. Weed Like to Talk launched a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) in February 2014. An online petition, its goal is one million signatures, from seven or more EU states, within 12 months.

If they succeed, under Article 11, Paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)… by the European Commission will have to acknowledge a legislative proposal for a change in EU policy. If that happens, Europe’s policy makers will be forced to take notice.

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