Poland has just legalised medical cannabis. Germany is considering selling it in pharmacies and dispensaries. Several African nations also are mulling it over. Even the United Kingdom seems to be considering the prospect (though the Prime Minister’s government is opposed, so one should not be surprised if it comes to nought).
US Market Hits Speed Bump
The US remains the fastest-growing market for legal marijuana. Cannabis has become a true industry in several states since Colorado approved recreational use. 64% of the US population now approves of legalisation, and more than half the states have passed laws allowing its use medically. Surprisingly, it seems on the precipice of reversing direction.
Cannabis still is illegal under federal law, and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions – the highest law enforcement official in the nation – has repeatedly indicated that he would like to enforce that law. Sessions still considers marijuana an unsafe, addictive and medically useless substance. He has called for the repeal of a budget amendment that prevents the federal government from overriding state laws allowing medical and/or recreational use. If the amendment is not renewed by Dec. 19, he might get his way. Then millions of dollars of investment might be replaced with millions of other dollars directed toward closing marijuana dispensaries and arresting and prosecuting users.
(In the United Kingdom, former Cabinet minister and marijuana decriminalisation proponent Sir Edward Davey estimated that between 2013 and 2016 alone, Met Police spent £3.1 million to keep 6,924 people in holding cells for 12 hours because of cannabis-related offences.)
Legalisation in Europe
The global marijuana market is currently worth $7.7bn, and could exceed $31bn by 2021, according to cannabis market researcher the Brightfield Group. Meanwhile, nations are legalising medical marijuana and decriminalising possession for use, including several European countries.
If every European nation legalized cannabis, the European Cannabis Report (ECR) estimates the value of Europe’s market alone could be €56.2bn (£50bn or $65.4bn). That’s a big if since no European country has fully legalised marijuana use yet.
In Germany, where medical marijuana for the seriously ill was only approved last year, the market already has a value of €10.2bn ($11.9bn or £9.1bn) according to ECR. Negotiations to form a coalition government may further legalise cannabis. If Germany did legalise recreational marijuana as well, the market value could rise to €14.7bn (£13.1bn or $17.14bn).
On Nov. 1 legislation took effect allowing Polish pharmacies to sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients who suffer from chronic pain, chemotherapy side effects, such as nausea, complications from multiple sclerosis and epilepsy that do not respond to other drugs. According to a Polish Pharmaceutical Chamber estimate, “up to 300,000 patients could qualify for medical marijuana treatment.”
There is no provision for allowing the growing of marijuana in Poland however. Pharmacists will have to import cannabis from the Netherlands and make it into medicine, increasing the cost and reducing the availability. One gram of medical marijuana may cost more than €13 or £10.
Marijuana is “officially illegal” in Spain, but the country is getting a reputation as a ‘new Amsterdam’ because of the many so-called ‘Cannabis Clubs’ where people can consume cannabis in private. They’ve expanded from 40 in 2010 to more than 700 today. Because of this and because Spain has one of the highest cannabis use rates in Europe, Brightfield predicts it will have a recreational marijuana market worth nearly $206m by 2021.
The UK Looks at Legalisation
In the UK, there seems to be growing interest in allowing medical marijuana for at least some conditions. Last month, Labour lawmaker Paul Flynn introduced a bill to legalise medical marijuana and attended a “tea party” outside Parliament. But since the ruling Conservative Party is not in favour of such legalisation, it is not expected to pass in its current form.
Still, Canna Tech, a global legal marijuana industry conference, took place in East London despite the lack of government approval, because London is still the financial hub of Europe, biggest medical cannabis company in the world is British, and British universities conduct a lot of cannabis research.
Why Make It Legal?
If marijuana laws aren’t usually enforced, why legalise it? Is it not more exhilarating to be breaking a law, to experience an illicit thrill, that really harms no one?
Because nothing is 100 % harmless. Although marijuana has never caused a proven overdose death, it may cause harm in other ways, particularly to adolescent brains. In the US its designation as a Schedule 1 drug has severely limited research into its effects, with the same people supporting it remaining on that list saying there is no proof that it does good. In Britain, the first official cannabis research facility only opened this summer.
In the absence of proper scientific vetting, people must resort to anecdotal evidence or personal experience, but not everyone’s personal experience is the same or will necessarily have the same results.
Then, too, if marijuana is not legal, it cannot be regulated, and one does not know what one is getting with any certainty. According to reports, much of the cannabis sold on the black market is very potent, high in the THC that gets users high and responsible for other negative effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) – a non-euphoric – is a moderating component of marijuana, counteracting many of THC’s negative effects and allegedly providing benefits of its own. CBD does not get one high, but may help with chronic pain. Some researchers believe marijuana that is high in CBD but contains some THC provides the best result. That is the anecdotal evidence.
In the midst of an opioid prescription painkiller epidemic, devoting scarce resources to prosecuting – some might say persecuting – marijuana users seems absurd, particularly since cannabis may help prevent, replace and wean addicts from opioids. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can assist with addiction treatment, even at a non-12 step rehab, but they aren’t a treatment in themselves. Marijuana may be.
Legalisation May Be Inevitable
Even if marijuana is harmful, it may be too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Although marijuana use in teens has declined in recent years on both sides of the Atlantic, too many people believe it has medical benefits, or just like it and have not seen the negative effects – on their life, health, career or relationships – that opponents have depicted as almost inevitable.
Whatever harm marijuana may cause, like alcohol and tobacco, they now must be mitigated with rigorous scientific research, information, regulation, honest public service announcements and treatment. All of that takes money, which taxation of marijuana could help provide. Prohibition or “Just Say No” does notwork when nobody believes or agrees with you.