After decades of prohibition, some countries are starting to consider legalizing cannabis as a way to tackle the increase in consumption and take benefits from it. The fact is that cannabis is the most used illegal drug in the world, so looking the other way or introducing ambiguous or restrictive regulations is not going to solve the problem. Some Governments across the globe have taken action by regulating the cultivation and consumption of cannabis, this is the case, for example, of some states in the US and Canada. Now the focus is set on Europe, where the regulation of cannabis for medical use is being discussed in the European Parliament and some Member States have a whole new debate on the economic benefits that legalizing cannabis may bring.
Earlier this month the ETFGI Consultancy Firm revealed that the world’s first cannabis exchange-traded fund is on its way to becoming the second most profitable exchange-traded fund (ETF) in Canadaafter offering 50% return so far this year. In October 2018, Canada became the second country in the world, after Uruguay, and the first country within the G20 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. A few months later, the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index fund has grown to €1.15 billion ($1.3 billion) becoming the 18th largest Canadian ETF, according to ETFGI.
This data may bring the debate about the regulation of cannabis back on the table in many countries in the EU, including Spain. Not long ago two of the opposition parties, the anti-austerity party Podemos and the liberal right-wing party Ciudadanos, brought the issue to the Congress, although Podemos defended a total regulation of cannabis while Ciudadanos only supported the regulation of its medical use.
“What we are discussing is not whether it [cannabis] should be regulated or not, but who is going to be the next country to do it. I believe that Spain has to be the first [in Europe],” said the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, during his speech in the Spanish Congress after the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced that Canada would carry out a full legalization of cannabis. “We have to become a reference and take advantage of an opportunity that can give great benefits to Spain,” stated Iglesias.
It is not a secret that, beyond the arguments related to the medical benefits of the plant and the need to control the black market, the legalization of cannabis has huge economic implications. For instance, the Drug Policy Unit of the Faculty of Psychology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) has calculated the revenue that would imply legalize cannabis in Spain. According to UAB analyze, the Spanish Public Treasury would receive €3,3 billion ($3,71 billion) per year in taxes and social security contributions.
The study also points out that a total of 101,569 workplaces would be regularised in order to produce the 820,597 kilograms needed to meet current demands. In addition, although the cannabis legalization would not abolish the black market, “it would substantially weaken criminal networks given that their market share would lower to 15% of total demand,” indicates the analyze.
Currently, in Spain only private (at home) cultivation, possession, and self-consumption are allowed, the limit is personal use, excluding any type of profitability goals. In fact, the Spanish regulation regarding cannabis has normally been very ambiguous and not too restrictive comparing to other EU countries until 2015, when the conservative Popular Party introduced penalties for planting marijuana up to 6 years-prison and fines from €601 ($675) to €10,400 ($11,680) for consumption and possession on the public road.
However, despite the former Government’s reform to restrict cannabis, Spanish society has a much more open attitude about it. According to the Spanish public Centre for Sociological Research
(CIS), 84% of citizens in Spain are in favor of the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic purposes and 47% defend a complete legalization, including the recreational use of the plant.
The fact that, before the motion of censure, the former Government allowed five companies the cultivation and exportation of cannabis for medical use, complicates the debate even more. As the Spanish digital newspaper eldario.es informed, in January 2018, Mariano Rajoy Administration authorized a few companies to grow up to 20,000 hectares of cannabis for therapeutic and research purposes. The cannabis and cannabis products obtained from these crops can be exported for medicinal purposes to authorized entities. So, the question arises, is it contradictory to penalize citizens for cultivating marijuana and allow companies to make a profit of it?
Also, in Europe some countries have taken a step towards the regulation of cannabis, Belgium was the last one. At the end of February, the Belgium parliament adopted a proposal for a law that gives green light to the creation of a cannabis agency for medicinal use, which will be in charge of granting authorizations to producers and managing harvests (including exports and distribution to pharmacies and hospitals).
Meanwhile, the European Parliament has recently positioned itself in favor of legalizing the therapeutic use of cannabis by approving a resolution urging the European Commission and all Member States to address the regulatory, financial and cultural barriers related to the plant. The proposal, which was promoted by a Spanish deputy of Podemos, encourage countries to stimulate scientific research on the medicinal use of cannabis and suggests that this type of use should be covered by national health insurance.
For that, the Parliament has asked EU Governments to make a clear distinction between medical marijuana, which the institution believes has multiple proven benefits, and other uses of cannabis. Among the arguments presented during the debate, the MEPs (members of the European Parliament) referred to marijuana’s ability to reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes and alleviating the symptoms of diseases like epilepsy, Alzheimer, arthritis, asthma, cancer or mental disorders such as psychosis.
There is no denying that this is a very delicate debate, however, Cannabis remains the most prevalent illegal drug in Europe so there is a clear need to address the issue. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDD), 17.2 million young people (14.1%) have used it in 2017 and Spain is the fourth country in the EU with the highest consumption rate (17.1%), behind France (21.5%), Italy (20.7%) and the Czech Republic (19.4%). It should, therefore, be borne in mind the possible benefits that regulation may bring in order to control the quality of the product, tackle illegal networks, abolish the black market, increase the revenues of the public coffers, and take advantage of the medicinal benefits that cannabis can provide.
Source: https://www.forbes.com / By Contributor