October 2nd, 2020
Despite the fact that Europe has seen a slight increase in the total number of cannabis offences, there are significant differences across countries. In 2018, Spain accounted for 30% of the recorded cannabis offences in Europe, while Italy, with a significantly larger population, accounted for just under 5%. Countries such as Germany or Belgium have seen increased persecution of cannabis use in the last decade, while the UK has gone in the opposite direction, with offences falling by 40% over the course of five years.
Data, published in the context of the 2020 EMCDDA drug report, compiles the number of criminal or administrative offences recorded by dozens of law enforcement agencies across the continent. Significant differences in legal systems and law enforcement practices means that the definition of use and supply and the potential consequences are not consistent across countries. For example, in the Czech Republic growing and possessing for personal use is a non-criminal offence, punishable by a small fine up to €550 while neighbouring Slovakia contemplates up to 5 years in prison for the simple possession of a few joints.
In general, countries with a lower number of offences than the European average (184 per 100,000 people) tend to register more offences for supply (such as trafficking, generally involving larger quantities of cannabis) than for use (including possession of small amounts). The opposite is true for countries with a higher number of offences that the European average:
- The Netherlands, with its progressive harm-reduction policy towards cannabis which brought tolerance of coffee shops since the 70s, only records 44 offences per 100,000 inhabitants, and almost 75% of those are for supplying cannabis. The country is advancing an experiment that would legalise the supply chain of coffeeshops.
- On the other hand, slow-moving Spain registered 673 offences per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018, 95% of which were for the use or possession of cannabis, criminalised by the stringent citizen security law of 2015, despite the fact that the country is increasingly becoming a hub for large-scale criminal drug activity.
It’s difficult to assess the reasons for an increase or decrease in offences. Prohibition is usually blind in regards to the difference between the informal market (for example clubs & associations) and the illicit market, and it is often the average consumer or patient paying the price of cannabis criminalisation. Legalisation is the best way to regain the focus.
Published data accounts for both criminal and administrative offences involving cannabis recorded in 2018 or the latest available year. Data consistency may be affected by differences in legal systems and reporting methods across jurisdictions.