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Luxembourg’s Cannabis Legalization Hits Its First Hurdle

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jul 31, 2019   
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Luxembourg was on track to become the first European country to legalize recreational cannabis, but now the country’s government is facing some serious obstacles in bringing these plans to fruition.

How did Luxembourg go green? 

Last October, a general election in Luxembourg gifted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and his liberal-led coalition of the country’s Democratic Party, Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party, and the Greens, a second term in office

In keeping with normal procedure, the coalition released a policy document the following month that detailed the coalition’s aims for its second term. Nestled within that 246-page policy plan was a promise to pursue the legalization of recreational cannabis use.

The announcement came just five months after the country’s lawmakers successfully passed a bill legalizing the medical use of cannabis in the small European country. 

The authors of the coalition policy document expressed a desire to see a well-regulated internal recreational cannabis market open in the country. Recreational cannabis use and possession would be completely legalized, with cannabis and cannabis products being sold through commercial retailers, with the products subject to some amount of tax. This tax revenue would then be used to fund drug education and addiction management programs, in a similar manner to what already occurs in some parts of America and Canada

Earlier this year, two of Luxembourg’s most prominent politicians, Health Minister Étienne Schneider and Justice Minister Félix Braz, travelled to Canada to learn more about the cannabis legalization journey there. On their return, the two ministers announced that Luxembourg’s government would indeed be endeavoring to legalize cannabis within the current legislative term. 

The two also announced more detailed preliminary plans for legalization, including exact age limits on purchase and the planned maximum amounts for legal possession. A plan to restrict the purchasing of cannabis Luxembourg residents was also debuted, serving as a novel way to prevent “cannabis tourism” and drug trafficking within the European Schengen Area, which by design doesn’t allow regular border checks between member countries. 

Luxembourg violates United Nation's treaties 

A parliamentary question raised last Wednesday has brought to light a new hurdle that the country will have to negotiate if it wants to keep pursuing legalization. 

Luxembourg is a signatory of three United Nations (UN) treaties, which together form a robust global drug control network. Included in this network, is a stipulation that allows cannabis use only for medical or research purposes. 

The guardian of these treaties is the International Narcotics Control Board, or INCB. In a report released earlier this year, the INCB recommended that countries such as Canada and Uruguay, which have already legalized cannabis for recreational use, should “take steps to bring the entirety of their territories back into compliance with the international drug control conventions and their obligations thereunder.”

The INCB was also vocal in condemning Canada’s cannabis law reform at the time, releasing a statement following legalization which called the law “incompatible” with the current international drug control framework and accused the Canadian government of “undermining the rules-based international order.”

The recent INCB report came at a time where it was rumored the United Nations could be softening its stance on cannabis, following a recommendation from the World Health Organization that the drug be rescheduled within the UN’s drug treaties. Shortly after, the chief executives board of the UN (CEB) officially endorsed drug decriminalization, directly contrasting the stance of the INCB.

Despite the UN’s internal conflict on the matter, cannabis remains restricted under the rules of the international treaties, and so Luxembourg must find a way to resolve the issue if the country wants to continue with its plans to legalize recreational cannabis.

Is there a way forward for Luxembourg?

Health minister Étienne Schneider told parliament that the Luxembourg government is currently in discussion with the United Nations over the issue. Having previously stated that the country wanted to implement a Canadian-style recreational cannabis system, ministers are also discussing the problem with Canadian officials, Schneider revealed.

Navigating the potential treaty violation may mean that ministers are no longer able to unveil their concept cannabis bill next fall, as was originally proposed.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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