The laws governing cannabis in the European Union largely depends on the country. The EU has left it up for individual states to decide whether or not they adopt loose or strict regulations regarding controlled substances such as cannabis.
In countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal, the sale of cannabis is overlooked by law enforcement and personal use is largely tolerated. Germany allows regional states to decide how strictly they enforce cannabis laws, although cannabis is only for sale at pharmacies with special licenses, and even then only for cannabis patients. The Czech Republic and Switzerland both have decriminalized cannabis possession for personal consumption but can impose money fines depending on the circumstances and amount. Italy has adopted a policy where the sale of ‘cannabis light’ is permitted – but the consumption is not – effectively taking no position at all regarding cannabis decriminalization. Each of the previously mentioned countries within the EU has taken interesting positions regarding the use and sale of cannabis. See below for more in-depth analyses of the legal status of cannabis in each of these popular tourist destinations.
Cannabis legality in the Netherlands
Cannabis in the Netherlands is a hot-button topic, with thousands of visitors flocking to the capital city of Amsterdam each year for cannabis-related tourism and a government that doesn’t know which direction to take on the subject. Contrary to what most people think, the sale and use of cannabis in ‘coffeeshops’ is merely decriminalized/tolerated by Dutch law enforcement, and not strictly legal. If you wish to know more details about this conundrum, we suggest you read our article “Dutch Cannabis Law Explained”. Despite the confusing legality of cannabis in the Netherlands, the Dutch government is now tentatively starting to experiment with the legal cultivation of cannabis. Although it will take at least five more years before any further decisions will be made on whether cannabis will be legalized or to maintain the status quo.
Is cannabis legal in Germany?
Germany has experienced a wave of legalization for medical cannabis users in the past couple of years. Pharmacies have begun to carry cannabis as medicine, and German insurance companies have started to reimburse medical patients for using cannabis as a treatment. Recreational use is still illegal and can either be strictly punished or overlooked. Based on the regional government’s policies, with a more lax attitude adopted in cities such as Berlin and more strict punishments imposed in cities such as Munich.
Cannabis up to 1% THC in Switzerland
Switzerland is the European capital of CBD, with laws that legalizes all cannabis flowers high in CBD and up to 1% THC to be consumed and sold at (tobacco) shops across the country. Possession or consumption of up to 10 grams of psychoactive cannabis (more than 1%THC) flower is illegal, but decriminalized and punishable only with a 100 CHF fine (around 90 EUR). Over this amount, you’ll receive increasingly higher monetary fines based on how much you have that exceeds the 10 grams limit.
Czech Republic and medical cannabis use
The Czech Republic legalized cannabis for medical use in 2013 and decriminalized up to 15 grams of dry flower for personal use since 2010. If caught in possession, you could face a hefty fine for possessing cannabis without a medical license, so it’s smart to steer clear of smoking cannabis in public places while in the Czech Republic.
Portugal decriminalised all substances
Portugal flipped their national drug policy upside down to combat endemic heroin addiction that began in the 1980s. Following the dissolution of an authoritarian government, the Portuguese were exposed to the mind-altering substances most of the world had already become acquainted with in the 1960s. To combat this epidemic of addiction, the Portuguese shifted their mindset from that of demonizing drugs and drug users to providing the world’s first clean-needle exchange program as well as offering methadone to addicts. This led to the decriminalization of all drugs in Portugal, including cannabis. Today, cannabis is sold openly on the streets of Portugal’s cities, but you won’t find any social clubs to purchase recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis was only just legalized in Portugal, a country that has long grown cannabis for export to other EU countries.
Spain and its cannabis social clubs
Spain has long been at the forefront of progressive cannabis policy in Europe. However, cannabis is still illegal for commercial purposes. Cannabis can only be consumed in so-called ‘cannabis social clubs’. The cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis is largely tolerated, although not protected under Spanish law. Spain’s maverick regional power, Barcelona, has become the unofficial cannabis mecca of Europe due to its prominent social clubs.
Barcelona has exploded in the cannabis scene, hosting cannabis-related expositions such as Spannabis, which brings in thousands of canna-business people every year. The status of Barcelona’s cannabis social clubs is still in-flux with increasingly strict regulations on their operations and sales. Cannabis use is still prevalent in Spain, with cannabis tourism accounting for a good portion of all tourism to Spain. The legal status of cannabis is ever-changing, but one thing is for certain, cannabis is not losing its place as a recreational and medical substance in Spain.
Italy has Cannabis Light
Italy has long lagged behind the rest of Europe regarding cannabis legislation. The current status of legality is shaky at best, with ‘cannabis light’ (high CBD content, with <0.2% THC) being sold in tobacco shops, similar to Switzerland. However, these are sold as ‘collector’s items’, and buyers are warned against consuming or smoking this ‘souvenir’. This clearly ironic law creates a grey area where the law permits the purchase of CBD but forbids its usage. The Italian government has adopted this policy of looking the other way while absolving the government of any responsibility regarding the regulation of CBD’s consumption in Italy. There is a strong push for decriminalization from the younger generations but no real legislative or political direction for cannabis in Italy’s future. Therefore, it’s important to use caution when consuming cannabis in Italy as a tourist.