Do international cannabis policy developments have implications for Europe?

Recent changes in the regulatory framework for cannabis occurring in parts of the Americas have generated interest among policymakers and the public in Europe. These developments have been quite diverse, and there is a need to wait for robust evaluations before the relative costs and benefits of differing cannabis policy approaches can be assessed. Furthermore, the extent to which developments occurring elsewhere can be directly transferable to the European context is unclear.

Considerable diversity on attitudes to cannabis regulation and use exists within the European Union’s 28 Member States; with current approaches ranging from restrictive models, to the tolerance of some forms of personal use. Nonetheless, a lively debate is now taking place, with issues such as permitting the production of cannabis for personal use, and making cannabis available for treating medical conditions, of growing interest in some countries.

Regardless of any wider impact on drug policy, the existence of a commercially regulated cannabis market in some countries outside Europe is fuelling innovation and product development, for example, vaporisers, E-liquids and edible products. It is possible that some of these developments will impact on consumption patterns in Europe, underlining the importance of behavioural monitoring in this area and the need to evaluate the potential health implications of any changes in future consumption patterns.

The European cannabis market has already changed considerably in recent years, in part driven by a move to more domestic production. The historically high overall potency levels of both resin and herbal cannabis available in Europe, reached in recent years, are still observed. The drug also continues to be associated with health problems, and is responsible for the greatest share of reported new entrants to drug treatment in Europe. For all these reasons, understanding trends in cannabis use and related harms is important to the debate on what constitutes the most appropriate policy responses to this drug.