2021 Roundup of Cannabis Reform in Europe (and 2022 Predictions)

The year will be remembered for individual countries in the EU finally making formal decisions about recreational cannabis reform.
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As the world contemplates a whole new year, whether or not COVID will finally recede, there are a few things to cheer about, including cannabis reform. Namely, no matter how many uncertainties face us all, as grey January stretches beyond the holiday lights, there is certainly cheer in the air that will last much longer than the season.

Indeed, there are plenty in Germany right now who are already making plans for infused Weihnacht treats just a few years hence. It is now clear that cannabis will take its place quickly in German traditions, Christmas being just one of them. Canna-Glüwein (hot, mulled wine), anyone?

Beyond this, the rest of the EU now teetering on the edge on this issue, has now woken up to the reality that no matter what they decide to do (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and, of course, the current laggard, France), now that Germany has just uttered the declaration that is the beginning of the end. If not an inevitable form of economic development and tax money in a world starved of the same.

Cannabis has turned a major corner in Europe in 2021. Here are the major hallmarks of the year.

Red, Amber, Green, Go Deutschland!

Germany’s new “Traffic Light” political coalition has promised to address the issue of recreational reform legislatively in 2022. Unlike the U.S. where multiple attempts to pass federal cannabis reform have failed, this is likely to happen. 

In the initial rollout of reform, however, do not be surprised if the Germans decide to follow the Swiss and allow regular pharmacies to be the first port of call for both medical and recreational users. It would solve several issues at once—starting with the establishment of tight restrictions on cultivation and retail supply chain. 

A short term, interim solution such as this will knock out a far more contentious issue—how to structure a licensing system for everything from cultivation in the country (and by whom) to specialty shops that resemble American or Canadian “dispensaries.” Namely not medical establishments. Plus, online sales.

This is for both Germany and cannabis reform, expect there to be several iterations of reform, starting with state and city experiments that will inevitably see Berlin, Bremen, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Munich on the front lines (because such ideas have been avidly pushed on a municipal level before).  

Also, don’t forget that it basically took four years after the law changed and two after the cultivation bid was finally awarded, for there to be distribution of German cultivated medical cannabis. Don’t expect the details of recreational to be handled or hammered out much more quickly. See Canada.

In the meantime, however, full decrim will become the law of the land, and patients will be free of prosecution, both for possession and presumably (hopefully) reasonable home growing. Despite the reluctance to actually have cannabis cultivated in the country, either by patients or companies (see the drama over the first cultivation bid), this is not 2017. Germans, albeit grudgingly, now admit that the drug does work, as a drug, even if they are not yet of one voice in the majority that cannabis prohibition has of course, failed.

Regardless, German recreational, just as medical reform was before it, is a huge, huge step which will drive other countries across the region forward too.

Malta and Luxembourg will Lead the Way


It is a sign of how convoluted the Dutch situation is, if not national position, generally, that the island of Malta led the way on actual, formal, federal, recreational cannabis reform within the European Union (EU). Indeed, if there are analogies to be made, Holland is kind of like the European California—creating a market that exists in the grey areas but is only now facing a discussion (and further one far from complete) about how to federally regulate the industry.

Luxembourg also, it appears, was just hanging back until another country took the leap, despite promising the same in 2018 as a new coalition government took the reins there. Now there is no excuse for any more delays.

Portugal will also inevitably now enact reform as soon as the smoke from the general election early next year clears—and no matter who wins. The country needs an economic boost—either from tourism or exports, and this is a natural solution.

Beyond this, Spain may well follow a Dutch model to formalize production for its clubs rather than coffee shops in the next 12 to 24 months.

Also expect to see Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Greece and potentially outliers like Belgium begin to move with the herd, even if in the creation of experimental markets. This may or may not start to happen next year, but it will most certainly catch on within the next 24 months.

The Swiss Wild Card


Do not forget, of course, that the Swiss began preparing for a recreational trial rollout that now has a calendar date set for actual lift off in 2022. Companies have been submitting and obtaining approvals for the last eight months or so.

The beginning of this market, with its own strange requirements and rules, will also inevitably drive discussions and the shape of reform just across the DACH if not other EU borders the country shares with other countries. Everyone will be watching what goes down in Der Schweitz—including the unique waiving and blending of certain kinds of certifications—including but not limited to Novel Food and GMP.

Other Notables (or Not)

Try as they might to get some respect, the British cannabis industry, such as it is, has weathered difficult times, and these do not seem at least for now, to be ending any time soon. 

In contrast to the British on both European membership and cannabis reform, North Macedonia will inevitably play a role in the immediate future, even if just as a source of cheaper flower and oil extracts.

Poland is also still teetering on the brink of actual if not accessible medical reform, but expect this now also to speed up.

The Growth of Import Markets Serving Europe


The year 2021 was notable for another reason. Feeder markets will target EU if not Germany at their founder’s mandate, continued to grow. This means that no matter what happens with future cultivation discussions, in any country, starting with Germany, there will be no shortage of other certified cannabis from countries all over the globe at this point, looking for a German home. 

For this reason, there will be significant downward pressure on both the medical and “other” flower and biomass discussions.

Bottom Line On 2021?


If there is an analogy to be made, the situation in Europe now on the ground looks a great deal like the conversation in the U.S. in 2012, post presidential election that returned Obama to his second term in office. Namely, two states, Colorado and Washington State, voted on state mandates to create state markets. They both bloomed in 2014—and the rest, as they say, is history.

The developments this year in Europe, and even some of the stuttering delays, no matter their cause or ultimate resolutions, resemble this period, in many ways. And that spells great news for the industry, on all fronts.

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