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Cannabis and Europe: Which Countries Have Legal Cannabis?

January 8, 2020 10:03 am ET
Cannabis and Europe: Which Countries Have Legal Cannabis?

Cannabis is making headlines around the world as more countries, states, and cities are taking steps to reform laws surrounding the plant. As of this report, 33 states in the U.S. have adopted medical cannabis programs and 11 that have said yes to cannabis for retail adult consumption. Travel across the Atlantic to Europe, and you will find that countries there are as equally divided on the plant’s legality. So where is cannabis legal throughout Europe, and where is it best to just say no? Let’s take a closer look at what countries are embracing the green scene and to what degree.

Countries in Europe Given the Greenlight for Medical Cannabis Only

Like many states in the United States, several countries in Europe have only legalized cannabis and sometimes just specific cannabis-derived products for medical use only. Let’s take a closer look at some of these medical programs.

Denmark

A four-year pilot program that offers patients access to legal, medical cannabis launched in January of 2018. As of April 2019, there were over 2,000 patients registered. According to MJBizDaily, “the country’s business-friendly, patient-centric medical cannabis scheme is one of the most ironed-out systems in Europe.”

Finland

Cannabis for medical purposes has been legal in the country since 2008. However, all cases for approval are on a case by case basis, and very few patients have been approved for access to the minimal products offered in the program.

Germany

Since 2017, patients that have been diagnosed with a severe illness that has been untreatable by all other treatment methods and who has received a recommendation from a doctor can utilize cannabis for medical purposes. Cannabis and cannabis-derived products must be purchased from pharmacies.

Greece

Medical cannabis was legalized in Greece back in 2017. However, as of April 2019, no businesses had successfully received all three licenses required to do business in the country. Therefore the program is not yet operational. However, there are high hopes that it will be in full swing by April 2020.

United Kingdom

The UK legalized medical cannabis for patients with “exceptional clinical need” and removed the plant from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 classification in November of 2018. Patients that are approved for the program must receive a prescription from a specialist consultant. Recommendations can only be given when the patient has exhausted all other treatment options at no avail. As of the time of this report, the number of patients that have been able to obtain cannabis under the program successfully is quite minimal.

In addition, these countries have also legalized the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products to some degree for patients within their borders.

  • Cyprus
  • Ireland
  • Lithuania
  • North Macedonia
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Turkey

Where Cannabis is Medically Legal, Decriminalized, or Often Overlooked

Like in the United States, several countries in Europe have legalized cannabis for medical purposes as well as reformed their laws surrounding cannabis for personal retail use. Let’s take a look at a few of these countries where cannabis has been decriminalized for more than just medical purposes.

France

In June of 2013, the manufacturing of medicinal products from cannabis derivatives was legalized in the country. The products are only obtainable by patients that have received a recommendation for use and have exhausted all other treatment options. The National Medical Safety Agency must approve any cannabis-derived products.

As of November of 2018, the penalty for possessing cannabis without the proper doctor recommendation was reduced from a criminal charge to a 200 euro fine.

Italy

In late 2014, the Italian Army began growing cannabis at a military facility in Florence, and the production of medical cannabis increased over the next few years. Patients in the country can receive a recommendation to utilize medical cannabis for a handful of specific ailments and conditions. These include chronic pain, Glaucoma, nausea, and vomiting associated with cancer treatments, appetite stimulation for cachexia, anorexia, cancer, and AIDS patients, and treating involuntary movements in patients affected by Tourette syndrome.

Nonmedical use of cannabis is also decriminalized for products containing less than .6% THC and for religious use. However, the penalty for personal use and small possession is typically a fine rather than criminal charges in most cases. Recently, Italy legalized cultivation for personal use only.

Netherlands

In 2003, legal, medical cannabis product by the name “Mediwiet” has been available by prescription. There are currently five cannabis products approved for medical use in the country by authorized patients. One, however, is mainly a CBD product with very little to no THC content.

Since 1972, when the Dutch government classified cannabis as a less-dangerous drug, the possession of 30 grams or less has been considered a misdemeanor. The possession of fewer than 5 grams is deemed personal use and is decriminalized. Since 1976, Dutch coffee shops have sold cannabis and cannabis-infused products for recreational consumption.

Spain

In 2015, a law was enacted in Spain that decriminalized consuming cannabis in private spaces. This means that as long as you have a small amount and only consume in private, it is completely legal in the country. Residents can also grow a small number of plants as long as they remain out of sight of the public and are produced in private spaces. However, selling or trafficking the plant is a severe penalty for all offenders.

With that being said, medical cannabis is only currently legal in one district, and that is Catalonia. Here the program which launched in 2005 consists of 6 hospitals, 40 researchers, 60 drugstores, and just 600 patients. Medical cannabis products, however, are high in CBD and are not allowed to contain any THC.

Switzerland

Medical cannabis is legal in the country. However, only one product has been licensed for sale, and that is Sativex. A doctor must authorize all patients wishing to utilize Sativex before being able to purchase, possess, or use the product.

Since 2012, the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis came with only a small fine rather than criminal charges. In 2017, the federal court addressed this punishment and concluded that the possession of cannabis is legal and that only the consumption of cannabis is a fineable offense.

In addition, these countries have also legalized the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products to some degree for patients within their borders.

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Estonia
  • Georgia
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Moldova
  • Portugal
  • Slovenia

No Tolerance for Cannabis

As for the other 21 countries in Europe, it is still highly illegal to utilize, purchase, possess, or distribute cannabis for any reason or purpose. This includes within the borders of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Iceland, Kosovo, Monaco, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Ukraine, and Vatican City.

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