In July 2013 the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) of the Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice asked RAND Europe to provide a multinational overview of cannabis production regimes. The result of this research was a report that summarises differing cannabis production regimes across the world. It also analyses official statements and/or legal decisions made about production regimes for non-medical and non-scientific purposes (i.e. recreational use for adults).
Because GDPO has been following developments in cannabis policy across the world, particularly in the US, we decided it would be worthwhile to summarise some of the key points made in this important piece of research. The report focuses on four key case studies: Spain, Belgium, the USA and Uruguay.
Spain – “Following several Supreme Court rulings, the possession and consumption of cannabis is no longer considered a criminal offence, and the jurisprudence in the field has tended to interpret the existing legislation in a way that permits ‘shared consumption’ and cultivation for personal use when grown in a private place.”
These legal developments have allowed hundreds of Cannabis Social Clubs (CSC) to be established although they still operate in a legal grey area. The report identifies a number of conditions that need to be met in order for the Spanish CSC to be considered to “act in accordance with recurring criteria defined in case law.”
- The CSC must aim to reduce the harms associated with the consumption of cannabis, decreasing for instance the risk of adulteration of the substance.
- The premises must be closed to the public, and entrance must be only allowed to members (who should be regular consumers of cannabis).
- The members must only obtain and consume the average quantity of cannabis. The CSC must not allow traffic of cannabis among its members.
- The cannabis obtained from the CSC by its members is for immediate use on the CSC premises, to prevent others from having access to the substance.
- There should be no payment/fee for access to the substance, or a limited one.” (pg. 10)
Belgium – “The Belgian CSC ‘Trekt Uw Plant’ (‘Pull Your Plant’) is a non-profit organization initiated in 2006, following the 2005 joint guideline (as issued by the Minister of Justice and the College of Public Prosecutors) which assigned the lowest possible priority to prosecution for possession of up to three grams of cannabis or one cultivated cannabis plant.”
Trekt Uw Plant allows its members to produce cannabis collectively in closed private spaces in a number of cities (Antwerp, Luik, Brussels and Hasselt) with a ‘one plant per person’ policy. Since establishing Trekt Uw Plant a number of members have been charged with a variety of offences from possession of cannabis to encouraging drug use, however none of charges have stuck. The report sets out how Trekt Uw Plant operates:
“Each member pays a contribution for the costs incurred for raising the plants and every two or three months a so-called ‘exchange fair’ takes place in a private space, where members receive the harvest of their own cannabis plant (Trekt Uw Plant, 2013). In August 2013 Trekt Uw Plant consisted of 304 members, with departments in several cities and a medicinal division (Trekt Uw Plant, 2013). Eligibility for membership in Trekt Uw Plant is restricted to adults who live in Belgium, are cannabis users, are informed about the Belgian Drug Law regarding cannabis, support the organisation’s aims, and endorse its statutes and decisions (Trekt Uw Plant, 2006; Plant, n.d.), and membership is open to both non-medical and medical cannabis users (Verbond voor Opheffing van het Cannabisverbod, 2010). The organisation is based on a not-for-profit principle and is financially supported through donations, loans, membership contributions, legacies and other awards (Trekt Uw Plant, 2006).”(pg. 18)
United States – The RAND report analyses the developments in Washington and Colorado where legal regulation of cannabis was instituted by voter initiatives in November 2012. The report notes that, “Both states now allow adults aged 21 and older to possess up to one ounce (28.35 grams) of cannabis and larger weights of cannabis-infused beverages and edibles, and Colorado allows home growing (up to 6 plants), but the significant change is the licensing of large-scale commercial cannabis businesses. The initiatives tasked state agencies with developing regimes to license and regulate for-profit cannabis firms.”
In Colorado, the commercial market is regulated by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, operating under the Department of Revenue, and based on the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, which already regulates the medical cannabis market. Colorado’s regulatory system of production and supply came in to force on 1st January 2014 and it’s estimated that recreational cannabis sales exceeded $5million in the first week alone. An NBC News survey published on 3rd February indicates that taxes raised from cannabis sales have netted the state $1.24 million in tax revenue in the first month. It is possible that the sales will not continue at these levels once the novelty has worn off, however Mason Tvert, director of communications for Marijuana Policy Project argues that the so-called “Colorado experiment” will continue to show impressive sales, “obviously this is just the first month of sales and only a fraction of the businesses that are expected to be open are currently operating.”
In Washington where the Liquor Control Board (LCB) is in charge of regulating the industry, no date has formally been stated for the opening of stores but its thought they might be ready for sales by June of 2014. The LCB started accepting applications for licenses on November 18th 2013.
Whilst cannabis is still illegal under federal law, in August 2013 the US Department of Justice issued a memo that set out eight enforcement priorities in the light of the votes in Washington and Colorado:
- Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for
- the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences
- associated with marijuana use;
- Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and
- environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
- Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Uruguay – On 31st July 2013 Uruguay’s House of Representatives voted in favour of a bill to regulate the production, sale and use of cannabis. Details of the bill can be found here (in Spanish). This bill was then passed to the Senate who approved the bill by 16 to 13 votes on 10th December. President Mujica signed the bill into law at the end of December with the first sales likely to be in April 2014.
The bill will, “create a new public agency, the Instituto de Regulacion y Control del Cannabis [IRCCA], to issue permits for production by for-profit companies, and maintain registries for users and those who want to (1) grow at home (up to six plants), (2) participate in collectives (between 15 and 45 members who maintain up to 99 plants at any given point) and (3) purchase at pharmacies (up to 40 grams per month produced by licensed companies).”
The RAND report identifies four crucial distinctions between these case studies:
“The first is whether the activity pertains only to distribution within cannabis clubs, as in Belgium and Spain, or whether larger scale and overtly for-profit activity is or would be permitted, as in Colorado, Washington and Uruguay. The second distinction pertains to whether government action is undertaken by the national government or by a subnational jurisdiction that has some degree of sovereignty under that country’s constitution. Uruguay’s situation is the only one that involves a national government passing a law with respect to activity that is clearly meant to be suppressed by the international treaties. The third issue is the role government employees do or do not play in production and distribution. In Belgium and Spain, there is no role. In Colorado and Washington the role is indirect, in the form of licensing and regulating but not participating in the trade. A final distinction pertains to how overt the officially banned but nonetheless tolerated activity can be. In Belgium, if the cannabis clubs are visible in the manner of Trekt Uw Plant, law enforcement may act, albeit perhaps half-heartedly. By contrast, cannabis production and distribution in Uruguay and the United States will involve fully open activities; cannabis business will be registered with, and will pay taxes to, the government.” (pg. xi-x)
As well as reviewing these four case studies, the report also refers to a number of the other countries (or jurisdictions) that have either allowed production of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes (Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland) or have had discussions about changing the laws on cannabis production for recreational use (e.g. Chile, Denmark, Portugal and Switzerland and Copenhagen City Council).
This report is a fantastic resource for those anyone interested in the ways that cannabis policy is developing across the globe.
Citation for the report is as follows: Kilmer, Beau, Kristy Kruithof, Mafalda Pardal, Jonathan P. Caulkins and Jennifer Rubin. Multinational overview of cannabis production regimes. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2013. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR510