Which European country will legalize cannabis in 2022? The short answer to this question doesn't exist.
Although the European continent represents a tempting market for international companies and stakeholders interested in recreational cannabis, its legal framework is widely fragmented, and finding a satisfying answer is challenging.
The idea of legalizing cannabis is relatively recent in Europe, although every European country has a long history of legalization advocacy.
The medical cannabis market has become well established in some European countries, although law implementations struggle to find their best way to satisfy the demand.
The access to medical cannabis in Europe helped spread cannabis knowledge among many people in Europe, highlighting the plant's medicinal benefits.
However, the stigma on cannabis is still widely present in European society. Furthermore, cannabis legalization is highly politicized among parties in some European countries. Hence, legalizing cannabis in such a context may be mischievous as education and cannabis acceptance struggle to find the foundation to build a public discourse over cannabis legalization based on evidence.
But as Malta has become the first EU country to legalize cannabis for personal use, many among the cannabis community wonder what European country will be the next to legalize recreational cannabis.
The case of legalization in Malta can explain the route that other European countries may take. After years of commitment, community-based non-profit NGO Releaf Malta worked strenuously to legalize cannabis on the island. In December 2021, the government of Malta allowed its citizens to grow up to six plants at home, possess seven grams, establish a dedicated government authority, and allow its citizens to create social cannabis clubs. Although sales are still forbidden, such achievement marks an important cornerstone for the cannabis space in Europe.
Following the legalization in Malta, the enthusiasm for the legalization of recreational cannabis moved in Germany when the new coalition government led by chancellor Olaf Schulz declared its intention to legalize recreational cannabis and regulate its market.
The entrance of cannabis legalization into the new government's political agenda made many experts bet Germany will be the following European country to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.
But how realistic is legalizing cannabis in Germany? The country lies on a well-established medical cannabis ground. Its market is attracting numerous companies, wishful to invest in the country. However, regulating recreational cannabis is another story.
The coalition government's plan is ambitious as it aims to regulate the sale of recreational cannabis. But at the current stage, there is no roadmap to legalization. No proposals have been drafted yet to regulate and create a cannabis market in Germany so far. The Greens, the German political party that has promoted recreational cannabis legalization for years and is now part of the coalition government, introduced in 2020 a draft bill, also known as CannKG, to give adults legal access to cannabis. However, the Bundestag (German federal parliament) rejected the proposal.
It's too early to understand when and how the German coalition government will legalize cannabis. The government's action plan on legalization will depend on whether it will put this topic on top of its priorities in 2022 while trying to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, legalization would be a game changer for the cannabis industry in Europe, and German companies are already champing at the bit to enter the market.
The situation in Luxemburg seems much easier to analyze. The government was to legalize recreational cannabis personal use in October 2021, allowing cultivation, possession, and sale of seeds. But the country' legislative body country's legislative bodies have yet to approve the measure. Such a delay was due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. In the meantime, the Luxemburg government refined its draft bill, which should likely become law in 2022, although no official date has been announced.
The numerous efforts to legalize cannabis in Italy through legislative initiatives over the years haven't brought any successful results. But the good news is that Italian cannabis activists successfully set a referendum to decriminalize domestic cannabis cultivation and remove penalties for cannabis possession by amending several articles of narcotics law. If all the ballot process goes through, Italian citizens will be called to vote whether decriminalize cannabis or not in 2022. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently said the coalition government wouldn't hinder the cannabis referendum. However, right-wing parties will ardently oppose the referendum when it becomes formally scheduled. They could politicize it and use decriminalization as a tool to polarize the public debate and cloud the issue.
Since the country legalized medical cannabis in 2018, Portugal has become an important hub for the U.S. and Canadian companies to position themselves in the European medical cannabis industry. Snoop Dogg's Casa Verde Capital, Aurora Cannabis, Tilray, Cureleaf, and other companies have heavily invested in the country. But the first European country that decriminalized cannabis and other drugs in 2001 has yet to regulate the cannabis market. There are currently two draft bills to allow consumption, cultivation, and possession of cannabis for personal use. However, the government's instability and the pandemic have put on hold the proposals and the public discussion over legalization.
Switzerland announced in October 2021 its intention to legalize cannabis by allowing production, cultivation, trade, and consumption. However, the legislative process will take time, and it will unlikely legalize cannabis in 2022. In the meantime, Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, will be the location of a three-year pilot project starting in Fall 2022 to conduct scientific studies on the cannabis market and its impact on Swiss society.
Other European countries
The Dutch government aims to initiate an experiment involving the cultivation of cannabis for recreational use to determine whether and how controlled cannabis can be legally supplied to coffee shops and what the effects of this would be. Spain has recently failed to approve a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, although it is already decriminalized for cultivation and personal use. France is far from legalizing recreational cannabis as even medical cannabis policy is very restricted. However, it launched a two-year pilot experiment to supply around 3,000 patient medical cannabis products.
It's hard to bet the next European country that will legalize recreational cannabis in 2022.
It seems that most European countries tend to decriminalize or legalize cannabis for personal use rather than regulate a legal recreational cannabis market.
The only exception is Germany, which has the potential and the willingness to achieve that.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic could become the enemy of the legalization process because it can make the European countries' political agendas highly volatile and delay the legislative procedures for the cannabis reforms.