Exploring the European Cannabis Scene (Part 7)

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This week on ISMOKE we will be finishing up our seven-part series exploring Europe’s ever-changing attitudes towards cannabis and looking at how individual nations are preparing future policies for what will eventually and inevitably become a global post-prohibition paradigm.

In this final piece, we’ll be looking at the remaining countries on the continent that we have yet to touch upon in the previous six articles – all of which you can read below.


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The final European states that we’ll be focusing on are Monaco, Hungary, Austria, Cypress and Slovakia. Although there are arguably more countries that we’ve yet to discuss in this series such as Liechtenstein, the micro-states of Vatican City and San Marino as well as Turkey which potentially could be classified as European, however, we won’t and so they won’t be covered in this series.

First up we’ll be looking at Monaco.

Monaco

 

The small principality is a sovereign city-state, country and micro-state on the French Rivera in the Mediterranean. It is actually the world’s second smallest country yet has an impressive national prevalence of cannabis consumers with around 9% of its population regularly enjoying the herb.

Although it has been illegal to cultivate, possess and sell Cannabis in the micro-state since its creation in 1957, it is unofficially tolerated. The law is pretty lenient when compared to other European nations. Cultivation, possession, and dealing can incur a prison sentence of two months to one year and a fine of up to 1800 Euros. However, this isn’t strictly enforced.

Despite its tolerance, the country has no medical program and makes no distinction between personal recreational and medicinal consumption. It doesn’t seem to have any plans to introduce a medical program or legal reforms any time soon either.

There is an interesting juxtaposition between the tolerance shown by residents and police and the reefer madness style stories that the local media continues to perpetuate, like this article from last year, claiming that five children had been poisoned by accidentally inhaling cannabis outside in a park. A classic piece of cannabis propaganda.

Austria

The central European landlocked nation has allowed for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific use since 2008.

Previous to these 2008 reforms there was an unusual system in place to determine what amount constituted personal use over distribution. An arbitrary cap of 2g of pure THC was placed on the plants primary psychotropic chemical.  In practice, this means that a strain containing 20% THC means personal possession would be limited to 10grams anything more would automatically be considered possession for distribution.

Austria is a special case in Europe as the Austrian Narcotics Act only prohibits the cultivation of cannabis for the expressed purpose of obtaining THC which remains illegal in the country. This means that theoretically, you can buy unlimited amounts of clones from the multitude of shops that are popping up all over the country. This attracts a lot of business from its many neighbours, most of whom have all banned Cannabis and its cultivation.

After the 2008 reforms, this system was partially reformed introducing alternative ways of determining what is personal possession. This potentially allows for any amount to be argued as personal in criminal defence, as is evident in this case of a man who was acquitted for personal possession of ten Kilograms.

Conversely, the laws governing trafficking were made harsher, so that conceivably even passing a joint among friends could legally be construed as supply and incur harsh punishments.

Fortunately, on 1st January 2016, new regulations went into effect that switched the focus of the country’s drug policy prioritising “therapy instead of punishment” effectively ending criminal penalties for the buying and possessing small amounts of cannabis.

While the country allows for cannabis-derived medications to be prescribed, unfortunately raw cannabis in bud form is still prohibited. However, patients are free to cultivate their own at home for medical consumption.

The arbitrary system of using a pure THC percentage to determine different tiers of criminality is still in place for trafficking offences with anything over 20grams pure THC potentially incurring serious punitive measures.

The reforms of the past decade have made Austria the home to Europe’s only cannabis clone superstores. 

Hopefully, more nations will follow suit.

Hungary

In stark contrast to Austria’s ever-evolving progressive attitudes towards Cannabis, its neighbour and former empirical partner Hungary not only still criminalise personal possession, but also makes no legal distinction between hard and soft drugs. This means that possession of a small amount of Cannabis is equal in Hungarian law to possession of a deadly substance like Methamphetamine or Heroin.

The criminal consequences of drug offences in Hungary are quite severe. Luckily there is a provision in law to distinguish between personal cultivation, sale and possession and general dealing activity. 

“One cannot be punished for drug misuse, if a small, personal amount is produced, acquired, or in possession” “provided that before final verdict is determined a verification is provided that continuous 6-month therapy has taken place”
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As with its neighbour Austria, Hungary uses a system that determines possession by the amount of pure THC not the weight of the plant material itself. 1 Gram is their arbitrary limit for what constitutes personal possession. Over this amount can result in lengthy incarceration, theoretically, twenty years to life is possible under aggravated circumstances.

The country has no medical program and its current government not only have no plans to introduce medical Cannabis they’re further ramping up the reefer madness rhetoric of recent history as part of its unfortunate recent decline back into extremist right-wing ideology.

Interestingly, there is a town in Hungary called Kenderes, whose name is thought to date back to the Ottoman Empire. The Hungarian word for Hemp is Kender and the surname Kenderes translates roughly to “He who has got Hemp”  Let’s hope its populous takes note of their history and push for a twenty-first-century renaissance of Hemp cultivation. 

Hungarian national dress produced from Hemp and linen woven into brightly coloured garments.

Hemp was historically a huge part of Hungarian peasant life up until the rise of the soviet union, that shut down individual farmers in place of farming collectives in Ukraine and other regions. The countries Hemp industry has struggled to recover ever since.

Slovakia

The country became the modern republic we no it as today in 1993 following the peaceful dissolution of former Czechoslovakia.

Cannabis is the most popular illegal drug in the country, with its use slowly increasing since declaring independence. Hopefully, this may help the country lessen the damage caused by their Alcoholism. Slovakia is one of the top Alcohol consuming nations on Earth. 

As with some of the other European countries that we’ve discussed Slovakia doesn’t differentiate between soft and hard drugs and there is therefore theoretically the potential of serving life in prison for drugs offences with aggravated circumstances.

Trafficking, supply, and production of all illegal drugs may result in three to ten years incarceration with the sentences rising to ten to fifteen years for particularly large amounts. Activity involving organised criminal groups and aggravating circumstances can result in up twenty-five years in prison. Technically you could even face life in prison if you accrue three convictions for certain serious drug crimes triggering the automatic imprisonment of twenty-five to life.

Personal possession of any illegal substance in Slovakia can result in up to three years imprisonment, possession of larger amounts of up to “ten personal doses” can incur up to five years incarceration. With larger amounts automatically being classified as possession with intent, regardless of actual intention.

The country also has an incredibly draconian and Orwellian law: Its section 174 of the criminal code actually makes it an offence to speak of illegal drugs in a favourable or positive light. 

This draconian law was utilised most recently in 2010 when a complaint was filed with police who began investigating the new political party “Freedom and Solidarity” after it declared its intention to decriminalise Cannabis as part of their election pledge. The complaint was subsequently dismissed after the election. 

It took the country until March 2014 to legalise the sale of Cannabis seeds. This is evident of just how anti-cannabis Slovakia has been under prohibition.

There is not only any medical program in the country but the parliament also took the extraordinary step in 2011 to classify Cannabidiol (CBD) into Group 2 of their Psychotropic Substances Act. This means that the handling, import, and export of CBD to the Slovak Republic requires the consent of the Ministry of Health. 

An interesting side note: there is a Slovak goddess named Mokoš who is the protector of women. She weaves destiny and fate is still often appeased in the traditional way of making an offering of hemp seeds by throwing them into the water in the hopes of winning her favour. I wonder what she would make of the countries modern war on drugs.

Republic of Cyprus

The Mediterranean island nation legalised medical Cannabis by prescription in January 2017. However late-stage cancer patients are the only ones who meet the current existing criteria. The system is limited as it does not allow for personal cultivation nor does the country currently have any intention to start domestic cultivation. It is instead looking to Canadian and Israeli companies to fulfil their growing demand. This restrictive system makes accessing medicinal cannabis incredibly difficult for the average cannabis patient in Cyprus.

Drugs in Cyprus are classified in a similar system to our own. Divided into Class A, B and C with Cannabis being a class B drug much like it is here in the UK. However, unlike here at home, personal possession in Cypress is regarded as a serious offence with possession of over 30g or the cultivation of more than three plants being considered to be possession with intent to supply which can theoretically receive a sentence of life in prison.

In reality, however, first-time offenders caught in possession of cannabis can expect to pay a fine of 500-1000 Euros and complete a mandatory detox program. Multiple offences, however, will result in harsher punishments.

Hemp cultivation was once again permitted on the island in 2014, finally reconnecting the nation with its long history of cultivating the Cannabis plant. Prior to Hemps prohibition in 1936, there were hundreds of cultivators producing acres of this most versatile of crops. The Mediterranean nation’s geographical location makes it a great place for outdoor cultivation.

There is also a historic Hemp town on the island known as Kannavika which is thought to of been one of the islands largest and oldest Hemp cultivation sites.

Hopefully, the reintroduction of industrial Hemp can begin the long process of healing after decades of reefer madness, propaganda and political rhetoric that brought about the removal of the plant from the island nation in the first place. 

Conclusion

In Conclusion, I’ve spent the past several weeks looking at almost fifty different European countries reviewing and researching their current legal status and exploring the potential future that our oldest companion species potentially has in those individual nations.

Having now completed this series it is to my shame and regret that I have to report that the UK is currently decades behind the vast majority of mainland Europe in terms of Cannabis law reforms. Other than Hungry and a few former Yugoslavic and USSR states, the UK has the most antiquated, draconian and ideologically driven policies on cannabis.

In recent years a petition was circulated in the UK acquiring some 250,000 signatures. This garnered the usual regurgitation from MPS reiterating governmental rhetoric with hundreds of thousands of auto-reply emails being generated informing the rightly concerned public that the current British government had no intention now, or ever of rescheduling Cannabis” taking the opportunity to again repeat its ideological position by proclaiming cannabis “a dangerous drug” that causes psychosis and “poses a serious risk of abuse and addiction”, yet they fail to present any supporting evidence to these antiquated, ideologically motivated and sensationalist claims.

The UK does, however, allow the proliferation of certain Cannabinoid derived medications such as GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex, which we have seen in almost all the European states that allow cannabinoid medications that we’ve discussed in this series.

It may surprise you learn that the UK currently cultivates over 90 tons of Cannabis (predominately Skunk #1 for Sativex) 100% legally making the UK the worlds largest producer of medical cannabis, by some margin.

GW makes all that cannabis into medications to be exported to over 30 countries. It can be prescribed in the UK but requires potentially years of sustained effort, hoop-jumping and effectively begging the health service to procure it. This is primarily down to the extortionate cost to the NHS as Sativex costs over £400 a month.

Our current drugs minister Victoria Atkins is the wife of Paul Kenwood, who runs British sugar. BS have a contract with GW Pharmaceuticals to legally produce 45 acres of medical cannabis in Norfolk.

GW, who is also the world’s largest cannabis cultivator doesn’t even float on the London stock exchange. Instead, they are on the New York stock exchange, where their profits won’t be hindered or shareholders scared by the mainstream British media’s continuous campaign of reefer madness and propaganda.

The FDA in the states recently approved Epidolex meaning that the CBD heavy anti-epileptic medication may soon be ubiquitously available globally, well in countries that currently have medical cannabis program, so not in the UK.

Ultimately, having observed the current political climate in the UK it’s not too pessimistic to say that if Cannabis is to be relegalised in the UK, then it will likely be down to UN mandate following the global end to the war on drugs.

Our current government greatly profits from the perpetuation of prohibition both financially and politically. Prohibition has been to the detriment of the populous of all nations. The whole planet has suffered as a direct consequence of corrupt ideologically driven politicians attempting to wage a war against a plant that has never, will never and cannot kill you!

Simpa
DCCC