Luxembourg Unveils Intention for Internal Recreational Cannabis Market
The past couple of years has seen a wave of populism give power to far-right, far-left, and nationalist political parties across Europe, with the traditional center-left losing out as a result. The unexpected political phenomenon has even been given a name: Pasokification - named for the demise of Greece’s social democratic party, Pasok, in the early 2010's.
Pasokification can be clearly seen in many areas of European politics in 2018, perhaps most clearly in the rise of Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right nationalist party Lega Nord and the current Deputy Prime Minister of Italy. His populist approach has seen Lega Nord nearly double their support from the Italian public since the nation’s election in March, leading former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to invite Deputy PM Salvini to join “The Movement” — an organization set up by Bannon and the notable Belgian lawyer and politician Mischaël Modrikamen to support right-wing anti-establishment groups and politicians across Europe.
In mid-October, against this backdrop of huge political power shifts in Europe, Luxembourg held its general election. In what could feasibly be labeled a “shock” result in present day Europe, there was no shock. The status quo was maintained.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, and his liberal-led coalition of the country’s Democratic Party, Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party, and the Greens, would stay in power for a second term after gaining enough seats to form a majority government between the three parties.
Announcement of recreational cannabis legalization
In the final days of November, the coalition released a 246-page policy document detailing the coalition’s aims for its second term in power. One of the most notable inclusions in the document is a small section announcing the government’s intention to legalize recreational cannabis in the country. This intention was also confirmed at a press conference held by the leaders of each of the coalition parties.
The announcement comes almost exactly 5 months after the coalition legalized medicinal cannabis in Luxembourg at the end of their previous term in office, and could make Luxembourg the first European country and EU member state to fully legalize recreational cannabis. The announcement also comes at a time where a public petition to legalize the sale of cannabis through coffee shops in Luxembourg had gathered enough signatures to be discussed in parliament.
As outlined in the policy document, the coalition would legalize the use, possession, and consumption of recreational cannabis and cannabis products, which would be sold through commercial retailers, and would be subject to tax. In a nod to many American states and Canadian provinces which do the same, the Ministry of Health has confirmed that tax revenue from cannabis sales in Luxembourg will be used to fund drug education and addiction management programs in the country. The document also notes that the country is unlikely to participate in cannabis imports or exports, perhaps implying that Luxembourg would cultivate and produce its own cannabis for consumption. At present, Luxembourg imports medicinal cannabis from the Canadian cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis Inc.
Exact details on taxation levels, regulations, and other terms relating to the creation of a recreational cannabis market in the country are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Could the proposal create a second black market?
There are two main negative responses to the announcement that are being voiced so far.
Firstly, there are concerns regarding the timing of the announcement. The commitment to legalizing recreational cannabis was made in the immediate wake of a general election, and as such there is a lot that still must be made clear about how recreational legalization would pan out in the country. These clarifications will hopefully be part of further announcements in the near future. Though it should also be noted that the policy document’s purpose is to set out intentions for the next five years, so the Luxembourg government does have the time available to consult with experts moving forward.
Secondly, as the proposal stands, recreational cannabis would only be legal for the country’s “adult residents”, meaning that other EU nationals or international tourists in Luxembourg would not be covered by the legalization proposal. This exclusion was proposed on the basis that the coalition government “isn’t considering transforming Luxembourg into a cannabis tourism destination” — an anonymous source from the Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party told Marijuana Business Daily.
Despite being a member of the European Union, which promotes free movement and open borders for trade between EU member states, Luxembourg may still be allowed to enforce its planned citizens-only policy for recreational cannabis use. In a previous ruling by the European Court of Justice regarding Dutch coffee shops — where cannabis is often purchased and consumed, despite the Netherlands only formally decriminalizing the drug — it was decided that freedom of movement and non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality within EU law could not be relied upon to universally allow the purchase of cannabis for non-Netherlands residents. As such, this could give the Luxembourg government precedent to restrict access to their recreational cannabis market to only citizens of Luxembourg.
Yannick Lambert, a political reporter for the Luxembourg Times, fears that this restriction of sales to only Luxembourg residents could have unintended consequences.
"We have a lot of people coming in from France, Germany, and Belgium on a day-to-day basis," explained Lambert to Civilized, "and it could create, in my opinion, a second black market for people who don't live in Luxembourg, but it still has to be fleshed out.”
Whether these concerns become issues remains to be seen, but all eyes will certainly be on Luxembourg moving forward. Public opinion in Europe appears to be slowly swinging towards furthering cannabis law reform, and medicinal cannabis has already been adopted in a number of European countries. If Luxembourg successfully opens the first recreational cannabis marketplace in the EU, it is not unrealistic to imagine other EU countries following suit and taking a second look at their own cannabis legislation.