Cannabis in the City: Regulation and local authorities in Europe

Interactive Seminar Brussels, November 19-20 2018
20 March 2019
Report

In November 2018, the Cannabis in the City interactive seminar brought together activists, scholars, and local policy makers to share the preliminary findings from this research, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for local authorities, and to strategise about possibilities for local cannabis regulation in Europe. This report shares some of the key findings, observations, and questions arising from the seminar.

Background

This interactive seminar was designed to give participants from several European countries the opportunity to exchange local experiences of cannabis regulation at the sub-national level and to reflect on preliminary findings of an analysis of advances in cannabis regulation in six European countries.

The primary goals of the seminar were information exchange, mutual learning, and joint exploration of possible ways forward in the current European context.

The seminar was organised by the Transnational Institute (TNI), as part of the project funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundation, New Approaches on Harm Reduction Policy and Practices. Participants were mainly local policy-makers, civil society representatives, and engaged researchers from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, as well as participants from Italy and the UK, and representatives from European Union (EU) institutions.

Sessions provided all participants the opportunity to share information on the current situation in their country, the prospects for local projects to regulate cannabis, and the potential level of interest in creating a network of European cities to further advance policy-related work on the subject. The second day of the seminar convened a smaller group of participants to discuss in more detail cities’ needs and the possibilities of creating a network of European cities advancing cannabis reform.

Introduction

Cannabis for non-medical or scientific use is illegal in Europe, since European cannabis policies are heavily based on the United Nations (UN) drug-control conventions. Although the recreational use of cannabis has been decriminalised in the countries under scrutiny, its cultivation and distribution are prohibited. The substance is, however, widely available. Current cannabis policies throughout Europe cause problems in terms of criminality (illicit trade and cultivation and the use of proceeds to fund criminal activities), public disorder (i.e. street dealing), unsafe situations (e.g. fires in indoor plantations), health risks for users because of the toxic residues in cannabis, and young people’s easy access to cannabis due to flourishing illicit markets.

National legislation depends on politics, often relying on moral arguments and the perceived harm of the substance. At the city level, however, more pragmatic policies sometimes prevail, as local and municipal governments seek to balance citizens’ interests with national legislation. National governments prohibit recreational cannabis markets while health professionals and policy-makers at the municipal and regional level try to find practical solutions. Increasingly, cities see new possibilities for a more effective and humane policy based on the regulation of controlled cannabis markets rather than total prohibition. The current situation provides ample evidence that prohibition is ineffective and that existing drug policies are failing to secure the safety and health of city dwellers. Although it seems that virtually any form of regulation would be an improvement upon the current situation, there is no consensus in Europe, or even within particular countries, on the best way to undertake reforms.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. The publications reflect the views only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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