Drug policy usually moves like an iceberg: slowly. And while and it can be hard to turn, sometimes it changes course in an unexpected direction. In the case of cannabis or marijuana, it may be picking up speed, but there are rough waters ahead.
Canada banned cannabis as part of the Opium and Drug Act of 1923. Great Britain joined the ban in 1928 – as did most of Europe – then reinforced it by passing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which ratified the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
With 1937’s Marihuana Tax Act, the US followed suit, in effect banning cannabis with an excessive tax. Next, the US removed its remaining patina of medicinal legitimacy in 1942, then reaffirmed its outlaw status with the 1952 Boggs Act, the 1956 Narcotics Control Act, the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act and adoption of the UN’s CPS. US states paid at least $1.2bn to enforce marijuana possession laws in 2010, and possibly five times as much.
In Europe, although medical use is often tolerated, the push for medical cannabis legalization has been more muted even amongst young people. In 2011 and 2014 the European Commission’s Flash Eurobarometer on Young People and Drugs found slightly more than half supported bans rather than regulation of cannabis. Still, there has been movement.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction says while many EU countries allow medical use of cannabis products, but never the smoking of cannabis. In the US, some politicians try to restrict cannabis use by not allowing popular delivery systems like smoking and edible products.
Germany legalized medical marijuana for some problems in March, as did Greece in June (though it has yet to go into effect). Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are other European Union nations with some form of legal medical marijuana. Others have decriminalized small amounts for personal use. France’s Emmanuel Macron favors this approach. MedicalMarijuana.co.uk has a slideshow explaining 22 European countries’ cannabis laws and practices, but it is unclear if it is up-to-date.
Given Prime Minister Theresa May’s antipathy, the UK isn’t likely to follow suit soon (the Liberal Democrats said they would have introduced such legislation if they had won the snap election).