By / August 18, 2023

European Cannabis Regulations: A Mosaic of Rules

Germany is partially legalizing cannabis. Yesterday, the German federal government approved a bill legalizing the possession and cultivation of cannabis. Other European countries have also become more liberal on this issue or are planning such steps. Here are some examples.

In the European Union, there is no uniform regulation regarding cannabis. Over the past 20 years, more and more countries have reduced penalties for possession of small amounts or abolished them altogether. Apart from Germany, many countries have introduced new laws regarding recreational cannabis use or plan to do so.


The Netherlands has long earned a reputation as one of the most liberal places in the world when it comes to drug policy, particularly cannabis. While many people believe that cannabis is entirely legal there, the situation is more complicated.

At the heart of cannabis culture in the Netherlands are the famous “coffeeshops” where people can legally buy and smoke cannabis. Although the sale itself is technically illegal, it is tolerated in small amounts (up to 5 grams per person) for people over 18. Every coffeeshop must have a license and adhere to strict regulations. This approach originated from a desire to separate the soft drug market from hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine and protect young people from them.

While possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis is tolerated, possession of larger quantities can lead to confiscation and fines. Cultivation of cannabis for personal use is also tolerated, but only up to five plants per person and without the use of professional equipment. Larger-scale cultivation, especially with intent to sell, is strictly prohibited.

In 2003, the Netherlands truly led the way in Europe by legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. Patients meeting certain criteria could receive a prescription for cannabis to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, or chronic pain. Medical cannabis in the Netherlands is produced and controlled by the government, ensuring high quality and safety.

The Netherlands’ liberal approach to cannabis has attracted many tourists, especially young people from all over Europe. Amsterdam, the country’s capital, is often considered the “cannabis capital” of Europe. However, in recent years, some cities, such as Maastricht, have introduced restrictions for tourists, not allowing them to buy from coffeeshops, to reduce problems associated with cannabis tourism.

While the Netherlands has a liberal approach to cannabis, the country continually adjusts and modifies its laws in response to social and political challenges. One thing is certain: the Netherlands’ approach to drugs is unique and plays an essential role in the global debate on cannabis legalization.


Malta, though one of the smallest countries in Europe, has made significant strides in cannabis policy in recent years, becoming a pioneer in the Mediterranean region.

The 2021 decision to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis marked an important step in changing the country’s approach to the substance. Previously, even possession of small quantities could lead to confiscation, fines, or even imprisonment. Cultivation of up to four plants for personal use has also been decriminalized, allowing individuals to grow cannabis without fear of legal repercussions.

The concept of cannabis clubs in Malta is innovative and aims to organize the cannabis user community, allowing them to grow and consume the product together in controlled, private spaces. This approach not only reduces the risk associated with the black market but also creates a community for consumers, where they can share knowledge and experience.

While Malta is one of the first countries in the region to take such steps, similar initiatives can be found in other countries, such as Spain. In some regions of Spain, like Catalonia, “cannabis social clubs” operate on similar principles as Maltese clubs. In Spain, however, they operate in a sort of legal “grey area,” where they are tolerated but not fully regulated by law.

Another essential initiative in Malta is the decision to expunge cannabis-related offenses from the criminal record, greatly impacting those who previously had such offenses on their record. Equally important is the educational approach – the government plans to run informational campaigns to make people aware of the new regulations and the potential risks associated with cannabis use.

Despite liberalization, Malta still has some restrictions. Smoking cannabis in public places and its use by minors is prohibited. These regulations aim to protect public health and ensure consumption occurs responsibly.

Malta’s decisions on cannabis represent an important step towards a more modern and humanitarian approach to drugs in Europe. Given the positive international community response, it is likely that other countries may be inspired by the Maltese model in the future.


Luxembourg, though one of the smallest countries in the European Union, is taking significant steps towards the full legalization of cannabis for adults. This groundbreaking move could make it the first country in the European Union to fully legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.

The primary aim behind the Luxembourgish government’s push for legalization is to protect consumers from the dangers associated with the black market, where the product is often tainted and there’s no certainty about its quality. Additionally, combating drug-related crime, which often leads to violence and other criminal activities, is a key argument for legalization.

While Luxembourg has taken steps toward legalization, certain limitations have been set. Citizens can cultivate up to four cannabis plants at home for personal use. Moreover, one can possess up to three grams of cannabis in a public place without fear of repercussions. This is quite a liberal approach, allowing people to use cannabis without fear of punishment.

However, authorities are firm in their stance against drug trafficking. Therefore, possessing more than three grams of cannabis in a public place is considered evidence of intent to sell, and such an individual is classified as a drug dealer. This strict approach aims to deter people from selling cannabis without the proper license and from controlling the quality of the product.

Luxembourg’s moves toward cannabis legalization are seen as groundbreaking in the European context. If the experiment proves successful, it might encourage other EU countries to take similar actions. More importantly, Luxembourg’s legalization could serve as a model for other nations seeking balanced drug policy solutions.

Undoubtedly, Luxembourg is expected to continue monitoring the impact of legalization on society, public health, and the economy, providing valuable insights for other countries considering similar steps.

Czech Republic

In the wake of global cannabis legalization, the Czech Republic is preparing to take control of its cannabis market. The Czech government is considering introducing regulations that would allow citizens to purchase up to 150 grams of cannabis per month for recreational purposes and legalize its cultivation and distribution.

The solutions being developed by Czech lawmakers are a response to dilemmas from 2010, when possession of small amounts of cannabis and cultivation of up to five plants for personal use awere decriminalized. However, the sale and distribution of cannabis remain illegal, creating a market gap that the new regulations aim to address.

Jindřich Vobořil, the national coordinator for drug prevention, emphasizes that the main goal of these measures is to protect consumers and ensure better quality control of cannabis. By introducing licensing fees and cannabis taxes, the state expects significant revenue for the budget.

Estimates suggest revenue of around 2 billion Czech korunas (about 400 million PLN) annually from the cannabis tax. Additional funds may also be possible from exports, especially to European countries that have already legalized cannabis.

Regarding the specifics of the regulations, a citizen will be able to purchase between 3 and 5 grams of cannabis daily, with customers required to register in a special system. Jindřich Vobořil adds that the licensing fee for sellers could be as high as 50,000 Czech korunas (about 10,000 PLN), depending on the size of the store or cultivation area.

Although many aspects of the regulations are still up for debate, there’s no doubt that a controlled cannabis market in the Czech Republic could bring many benefits. A reduction in drug-related crime, increased control over product quality, and additional budget revenue are just some of them.

The next step will be a government debate on the details, after which the proposal will be presented to the parliament. All signs point to the Czech Republic being on the right path to creating an effectively regulated cannabis market.


A European country known for chocolate, watches, and neutrality, Switzerland is taking steps towards becoming a leader in cannabis policy in the European Union. Since May 2021, as part of scientific programs, products containing cannabis could be legally acquired, aiming to gather data for future regulatory decisions.

At the beginning of 2023, Switzerland launched an innovative cannabis legalization pilot program. Although it seems limited at first glance – only about 200 people were selected to purchase cannabis in Basel – it is the first such program in Europe. These chosen participants not only have access to legal cannabis but also must agree to stringent health monitoring during the experiment. The goal? Understanding the full impact of legalization on society.

The program was initiated in Basel, where 9 pharmacies offer six legal cannabis products. Although the rules are strict – smoking bans in public places, prohibition on sharing cannabis, and driving under the influence – it marks a significant step forward.

When thinking of legalization, Switzerland might not be the first country that comes to mind. Despite this caution, Switzerland is now at the forefront of the European debate on cannabis. Several other cantons and cities are also planning to launch their pilot programs, potentially involving up to 5,000 adult residents.

However, it’s not the full-blown legalization seen in other parts of the world. In Switzerland, only prescription medical cannabis or cannabis with low THC content is available. But if these pilot programs yield positive results, they might pave the way for full legalization in the future, though experts predict this could take up to a decade.

This evolution is a far cry from the early days when cannabis products with less than 1% THC were the only ones permitted on the market. But this initial openness paved the way for subsequent experiments.

On the European global stage, Switzerland might be a forerunner in full cannabis legalization. Countries like Malta, Germany, and the Czech Republic are already working on similar initiatives, while the Netherlands – famous for its coffee shops – is planning its pilot program.

Although the path to full legalization in Europe remains long, Switzerland might hold the key to understanding how best to manage this process on the Old Continent.

(Featured image by Raimond Klavins via Unsplash)

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