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Europe resists to change the strategy

87,7 million adults in the continent, ages 15-64, have consumed marijuana throughout their lives
Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
22/07/2017
16:39
Inder Bugarin / Corresponsal
Brussels
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After leading for decades the debate on alternative policies to the war on drugs, Europe has delegated this responsibility to the Americas.

Even progressive countries such as Holland and Portugal, and cities like Copenhagen and Barcelona, are lagging behind in comparison to Uruguay and some states of the American Union, particularly in relation to cannabis.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), 87,7 million adults in the continent, ages 15-64, have consumed it throughout their lives. The plant is also responsible for three-quarters of the offenses related to illegal substances.

The Lisbon-based center determined that cannabis products account for around 38% of the illicit drug retail market in Europe, estimated at between €8.4 billion and €12.9 billion. In 2015, 404 tons of cannabis herb, 288 tons of resin and 19 tons of the plant were seized in the European Union.

In spite of the challenges posed by marijuana, particularly in countries such as Ireland, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany and Denmark, European governments have drastically resisted to change the strategy.

Since 2000, the general trend in Europe has been to reduce the penalties for consumption and possession for personal use, "but it has generally been for all drugs and not just cannabis," said to EL UNIVERSAL Brendan Hughes, UN expert on national drug legislation of the EMCDDA.

Some countries have gone further by eliminating imprisonment for personal possession, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg.

Of the 28 EU members, only Cyprus, France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, and Sweden continue to consider consumption as a serious offense that can lead to imprisonment.

"Support for medical purposes has also been growing," the expert continued.

In the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Germany, and Croatia patients can already access the herb under medical prescription, while there is an increasingly favorable attitude to the pharmaceutical use of this plant in Portugal, Ireland, and Denmark.

"There has been no change in recreational use. No government in the European Union has expressed its support for a change in legislation," he said. "Putting it in a very simplistic way, this is because neither the citizens nor the government has put pressure on a change in legislation... if people do not demand it, and the government does not want to, why change the law?"

Hughes recalls that in the cases of US entities, legislative changes have begun with the majority vote of citizens.

"How long can Europe remain static? That will depend on voters and politicians. But I do not think it can stay that way forever," commented the researcher.

Hughes says that after decades of neglect, the Dutch Parliament finally discusses an initiative that would end the absurd situation where coffeeshops are allowed to sell cannabis, but not to stock up.

In Italy, more than 200 deputies have joined a law-making initiative favoring the opening of specialty shops, while in Malta, following the elections on June 3, the three main political parties have committed themselves to discussing the issue seriously.

"We are beginning to see movements at the political level, and although they are small, they are significant," concluded the expert.

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