As Luxembourg steps up preparations for new legislation to fully legalise recreational cannabis, the country's Health Minister Étienne Schneider spoke to Euronews.
"After decades of repressive policies, we have acknowledged that this policy does not work, that it did not meet expectations. So it's time to change mindsets, change our concepts and try something else," said Schneider, who is also Luxembourg's vice prime minister.
Schneider expressed confidence that the bill will easily be adopted in parliament, where the coalition government currently has a majority.
The minister insisted Luxembourg wouldn't become a cannabis tourism hotspot, mainly because non-residents wouldn't be allowed to buy it.
"It is not about meddling in [other EU countries'] national policies, but simply of discussing the observations we made in Luxembourg," Schneider said.
"I hope that this Luxembourg initiative will also have a positive impact on the other countries of the European Union," the Minister added.
While more and more EU countries are legalising medical cannabis, the full legalisation of recreational cannabis would be a first within the bloc.
Read the full interview below and listen to an audio excerpt by clicking on the player above.
Q. Could you please outline Luxembourg's planned legislation on cannabis?
The Luxembourg government, in its coalition agreement from last year, has planned to legalise not only medical cannabis that has been available in Luxembourg since January of this year but also non-medical cannabis in the years to come.
In autumn, along with the minister of justice, we will submit a draft to the Governing Council. If the project receives approval, we will begin the legislative process to legalise the consumption, production and distribution of cannabis on Luxembourg's territory.
Q. What are the key points of the bill you would like to see adopted?
The idea, as I said, is to legalise the non-medical use of cannabis in Luxembourg. This implies that the entire production and distribution chain will have to be set up, also in Luxembourg.
But we know very well that our neighbouring countries, including France, do not allow recreational cannabis. So we will implement this new law but under the condition that cannabis can only be sold to Luxembourg residents. There will be no sales to non-Luxembourg residents, indeed, to avoid cannabis tourism in Luxembourg.
Q. So only adults will be able to buy cannabis legally?
Yes clearly, it will only be for adults.
What we would like to do, the purpose of the legalisation, is really to put consumption and production of cannabis under the control of the state, so both the production and sales chain at the national level, thus guaranteeing the quality of the product.
In fact, it is a policy intended to remove consumers from the illicit market in order to fight crime at the level where cannabis is supplied, while at the same time preventing young people coming into contact with this criminal environment, where they are also likely to have access to other drugs.
So we would like to prevent this problem for the youth. And as we see very well that there are often young people who are still minors who would also like to consume cannabis, we will not legalise it but we will de-criminalise possession for young people within certain limits, and without having the right to buy it of course.
Just a word on the revenues generated from cannabis. For the government, it is clear that all these sums will be reinvested as a priority in prevention, awareness and care in the broad area of addiction.
So the purpose is really not to replenish the states' accounts but to change our drug policy. Because after decades of repressive policies, we have acknowledged that this policy does not work, it did not meet expectations. So it's time to change mindsets, change our concepts and try something else. Luxembourg has also been inspired by the Canadian model and it is this model that we will introduce.
Q. What about the timeline for the planned legislation? You said that this bill would be tabled in autumn?
In fact, the minister of justice and I are working on a concept already, and this concept will be presented to the Government Council this fall.
It is only after we get the agreement of the latter that the work on the bill can start. In light of the advisory and legislative process we need to go through, I imagine it will take at least two years until we are ready to actually launch the legalisation of recreational cannabis in Luxembourg.
Q. Do you anticipate the bill will be adopted easily? What are the possible obstacles?
Let's say there are international treaties, which Luxembourg signed, that we will have issues with. That is to say that we will not be fully compliant on all aspects of it if we implement this legislation.
But it was the same thing for Canada, it was the same for some states of the United States, and there were not too many problems. And I know that within these international organizations there are reflections to move in this direction.
Q. Will there be a majority in Luxembourg to adopt such a law?
Yes! Look, this is the current government's project. The government has a majority [in parliament] and it will certainly know how to pass this law.
Q. At the moment, is the legalisation of cannabis consensual in Luxembourg's society?
This is a discussion that started a few months ago. I do not see too many obstacles in Luxembourg's society, considering the feedback we have had so far was rather positive. So I do not expect too much opposition from Luxembourg's society, which is very progressive.
Q. Is it true that Luxembourg also wants to encourage its European neighbours to soften their legislation on cannabis?
We will not interfere in the politics of our European neighbours, we respect the national positions of each country. But we are just observing that this drug policy from the last decades has not worked and that something else may have to be invented to better address the problem.
This is why I will certainly have discussions in the coming months with my European counterparts, especially from our three neighbouring countries — France, Belgium and Germany. We will explain in detail what we are doing and see what they think.
It is not a question of meddling in their national policy, but simply of discussing the observations we have made in Luxembourg, which were also made in Canada, in certain states of the United States, which suggest that it might be interesting to think of new drug policy.
Q. Should we expect a domino effect? If one state in the EU legalises cannabis, is there a risk that others will be forced to legalise as well?
This is not going to force them.
But I will say that it would be a good thing because all the analyses that we conducted with experts, also with medical doctors, tell us that the current policy did not work and therefore maybe we should try something else.
So yes, I hope that this Luxembourg initiative will also have a positive impact on the other countries in the European Union.