Cannabis in the EU?


By Jason Liu, second-year stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton School of Law. 

Image used under the Creative Commons License.

The CLPP Blog has been covering the cannabis policy in North America, and will now look at the European Union. This blog post will briefly review the cannabis policies of the major European nations from a unified EU perspective.


Currently the European Monitoring Centre of Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) notes that cannabis for personal use is a controversial issue that Member States have addressed differently. Despite the sharing of central principles, Member States have different control frameworks.

Similar to the United States, EU Member States have adopted their version of a controlled substances act through the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The key definitions of cannabis, the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and dronabinol (delta-9-THC), are classified as psychotropic substances under Schedules I and II respectively under the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The EU Member States have taken the UN rules on cannabis and applied them according to local or regional circumstances. Thus, there is a heterogeneous ‘legal map’ regarding cannabis control and penalization.

Here are some policies from a few Member States:


Cannabis-related offences are punishable by up to 5 years’ imprisonment or a fine, though punishment can be remitted in cases of ‘insignificant quantities’ for personal use. The Constitutional Court has stated that even if penal provisions for the possession of cannabis are in line with the constitution, the Länder (states within Germany) should waive prosecution in minor cases when possession of cannabis is for personal use. Each Land has determined what it considers to be an ‘insignificant quantity’ of cannabis.


Cannabis-related offences, such as possession and use in public places, are punishable by administrative sanctions. Judicial practice suggests that punishable possession comprises amounts exceeding 40 g of hashish.

United Kingdom

Cannabis-related offences, such as possession, are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. For adults, police may warn or issue a penalty notice for disorder instead of prosecuting, as part of a three-point escalation process for cannabis possession for personal use.

(More EU Member State policies can be found here)


Regarding prosecution, the European Drug Report of 2015 notes in Europe discussion on cannabis remains largely focused on the control and the health costs associated with the drug. The Report noted that cannabis drug-related crime statistics, with the drug accounting for 80% of seizures and cannabis use or possession for personal use accounting for over 60% of all reported drug law offences in Europe.  As such, the Report observes a growing trend of cannabis within drug treatment systems in Europe, with an increase in the number of treatment demands for cannabis-related problems.


Although EU member states draw from the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a unified cannabis law or policy may be difficult for a joint EU Directive due to variations of cannabis enforcement. Currently, there is no binding law on all EU member states regarding cannabis policy. There have been EU Council Resolutions that requested Member States discourage the personal use of cannabis, but there is no comprehensive cannabis policy.

However, as cannabis policy in North America raises international discussion, such as an upcoming Special Session of the UN General Assembly of the World Drug Problem, there may be policy changes in the Member EU States in the near future.

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