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European Union Legalising Medical Cannabis – History in the Making

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Laying the groundwork for legalising medical cannabis, the European Union is beginning to outline a harmonised set of laws across Europe.

Medical cannabis is inching its way into the European Union agenda as legislators prepare to funnel cash into research of the drug and begin laying the groundwork for a harmonised set of laws across Europe. In late 2018, health committee politicians in the European Parliament voted to approve a draft resolution on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and now the proposals are going to become a concrete motion.

The European medical cannabis industry

Europe’s cannabis industry is predicted to be worth €115.7bn by 2028, making it the world’s largest legal cannabis market. Due to domestic regulations, the EU could not legalise cannabis immediately, but it can lay down a set of guidelines that each country transposes into domestic law.

In December 2018, the EU’s drug agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), provided the first report on medicinal cannabis.

It sought to answer the evidence base for the use of cannabis and cannabinoids in modern medicine, alongside providing definitions of cannabis preparations and medicinal products, and the differences between both.

The EMCDDA Report

Aimed at policymakers, the report responds to growing interest in this topic as more European countries develop policies and practice in this area.

The report states: ‘Many EU countries now allow or are considering allowing, the medical use of cannabis or cannabinoids in some form.’

However, the report notes that approaches vary widely between countries, both in terms of the products permitted and the regulatory frameworks governing their provision.

The report also outlines the terms ‘medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids’ can refer to a wide range of products and preparations that may contain different active ingredients and use different routes of administration.

Referring to countries from across the globe, the report presents a selection of case studies illustrating the diverse approaches used by countries outside the EU to allow the use of medical cannabis.

Alexis Goosdeel, Director of EMCDDA explains: “In most countries, the provision of cannabis and cannabinoid products and preparations for medical purposes has evolved over time, often in response to patient demand or product development.”

The report highlights the challenges of decision-making and summarises the various issues that governments will consider when deciding whether to make cannabis or cannabinoids available for medical use.

“This report seeks to provide an objective look at current evidence, practice, and experience in this very fast-moving field and describe the complex patchwork of approaches adopted in the EU and beyond,” Goosdeel concludes.

It also highlights the importance of evolving a common language to help build a base for evaluation and assessment, which essentially means ensuring everyone has the same definition of key points when the regulation is eventually drafted.


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