Luxembourg poised to become the first EU country to legalize recreational cannabis

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Last month, Luxembourg set the wheels in motion to legalize recreational cannabis. This would make Luxembourg the first European Union country to do so, setting a precedent for the rest of the continent, writes Jericho Knopp.  

The announcement came after a press conference held by the recently re-elected coalition government to announce their new platform.

“We were quite surprised when it was announced,” said Pierre-Yves Gallety - a Project Manager for the European cannabis consultancy firm Hanway Associates. “But obviously, it's a welcome announcement. It'll be the first country of the EU to fully regulate recreational cannabis, so we're really excited.”

Gallety added that the small country would make such a huge move on the world stage.

“Nobody expected it to be so soon, and moreso, nobody expected it to be Luxembourg.”

Not unexpected for Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a tiny country of under 600,000 people, sandwiched between its powerhouse neighbours, France and Germany.

While they’ve had a conservative government in the past, the country is quite socially liberal, says Yannick Lambert, a political reporter for Luxembourg Times.

In fact, there was a lot of pressure on the new government to legalize recreational cannabis, after a petition to legalize the sale of cannabis through coffee shops gathered enough signatures to be discussed in parliament.

“Of course, you would hear the usual argument, about it being bad for mental health, it increasing crime and it not being a traditional drug like alcohol,” Lambert told Civilized, “but overall, the attitude towards cannabis has become more relaxed over the last few years.”

Lambert says that in a recent survey, over 60 percent of residents said they were in favour of cannabis legalization. In fact, last year, the coalition government had legalized medicinal cannabis on a trial basis, and then permanently.

Uncertain rollout

The announcement was made in late November, after the new coalition government - formed from the same three parties as the previous coalition government - was elected in mid-October. Given how soon the announcement came after the election, there is a lot that still needs to be determined with regards to how cannabis legalization will roll out.

In an emailed statement to Civilized, the Ministry of Health said that the main goals of the legislation will be to legalize the purchase, possession and consumption for adult residents of Luxembourg.

“In addition, this legislation aims to disincentivize the illegal market, to significantly reduce the physical and psychological dangers associated with cannabis and to fight crime at the supply-level,” the statement reads.

Cannabis will be taxed, and the proceeds of the taxation will go towards prevention, education and addiction management. Which is much the same as the regulatory models we've seen established in Canada as well as America's legal states. 

"A second black market"

One of the major concerns for both Gallety and Lambert is the potential restriction of sales to residents of Luxembourg.

"We we have a lot of people coming in from France, Germany, and Belgium on a day-to-day basis," said Lambert, "and it could create, in my opinion, a second black market for people who don't live in Luxembourg, but it still has to be fleshed out."

Gallety agrees, emphasizing that the restriction of sale to residents would be a violation of the European Union’s policy of free movement.

“It will slow down the development of the industry and the involvement of foreign actors as long as the borders are closed,” he said. As one of the EU’s founding members, Luxembourg should consider this complication carefully.

Another concern is the amount of traffic congestion that the industry might create as tourists pour into the small country to enjoy a puff of legal cannabis. Luxembourg already has a major traffic problem, according to Lambert, so legalization could wreak havoc on the Grand Duchy's roads and walkways.

"They aren’t alone"

As one of the founders of the European Union, and the first country to legalize recreational cannabis, the rest of the union will be paying attention to how they do it, and if they have any problems.

“There's economic reasons behind it, there's political reasons behind it, there's an element of destination branding that comes with it, and I think it's good publicity for the country as such,” said Lambert.

But it’s important to note that while Luxembourg is the first country to legalize recreational cannabis in the European context, it’s not the first country to legalize it worldwide. It has been done in a few different ways in Uruguay, a number of American states, and most recently, Canada.

“Other countries have done it before, and I hope that they will turn to some of those countries for guidance,” said Gallety. “A part of Canada speaks French, so you have a country that speaks the same language that has an experience from a business perspective, but also from a public health perspective.”

That said, things are a little different in Europe, and especially in the European Union, so it will be interesting to see how the country leads the way for legalization, setting an example for other EU members.

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