At this year’s Cannabis Europa conference, equity in cannabis was highlighted as vital to the industry’s development.
Whilst the legal global cannabis industry is ranking up its projections in the billions of dollars, millions of human beings sit in jail cells across the world for drug-related charges, tens of thousands of which are cannabis-related.
A number of countries are shaking up their approaches to cannabis, adopting more progressive policies across both medical and recreational uses. Reform experts at this year’s Cannabis Europa stressed that, as legislation changes progress, no cannabis prisoner should be left behind.
Joining together to highlight the plight of citizens across the globe that have suffered under “barbaric cannabis laws”, Dr Laura Garius, policy lead at Release UK, Mary Bailey, managing director at the Last Prisoner Project, Norman Reimer, global CEO at Fair Trials and Denzel Uba, who has been impacted by cannabis laws, discussed the role and responsibility of the industry in ensuring that equity is at the forefront of policy developments.
A racially inclusive industry
Legal cannabis must be a racially inclusive industry, emphasised Garius of Release – which has worked for decades on bringing awareness to the racially disparate policing and sentencing of drug offences.
“We see that the drug law is imposed most harshly against minority groups, despite the prevalence of drug use among those groups being no higher than among the white population,” commented Garius. “So, we are seeing a completely unjustified surveillance and monitoring and punishment of people from black and brown communities in the name of these drug laws.”
Cannabis is the drug that brings the largest number of people across the world into contact with the criminal justice system, and for the majority of these cases, this is for low-level drug possession.
Referencing Release UK’s report exploring equity and social justice initiatives within UK cannabis reform, Gauri highlights that in England and Wales, 80 per cent of recorded drug offences are low-level personal possession offences, which can land people with a five-year prison sentence.
Black people are also nine times more likely to be stopped to search for drugs.
“We know that these policies were actually born out of fears and desires to punish people based on who is perceived to use drugs and in relation to that the evidence harm of those drugs,” said Garius. “What we’re seeing 50 years after the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in the UK, and the start of Nixon’s war on drugs in the US, is a lot of parallels.
“To this day in the UK and beyond, cannabis policing and sentencing are racially and socially disparate and is driving inequality in our justice system.
“What is adding insult to injury is that the criminalisation of cannabis is the gateway. The criminalisation of cannabis possession is the gateway to further drug use and further offending because of the disruption to life opportunities, the disruption to education, and the disruption of family relationships.
“We need to end criminal sanctions for cannabis use, no matter its origins.”
Those who have worked in the legacy market must also be given the opportunity to transition into the legal market. Pointing to social equity programmes in more mature markets, Garius, highlights these programmes extend to family members affected by the war on drugs, as well as those who have been directly impacted.
“Massachusetts, which originated the social equity programme, is supporting minority groups get into the industry through training and grants,” Garius said. “And New York has committed to reinvest 40 per cent of the tax revenue into communities who have been over-policed and issue 50 per cent of cannabis licences to social equity.
“What we need you to do as industry players with amazing expertise, knowledge, power and influence, is to advocate for and facilitate responsible regulation in the UK, Europe and beyond. We need regulation that prevents displacement and cannabis policing.
“We need to wipe the slate clean for those with criminal records and automatic prison release. We need a social equity-led framework. We need a racially inclusive industry overseen by a dedicated board – we can’t whitewash the industry that has disproportionately disrupted communities of colour.”
Uba, who shared his own experience with punitive drug laws, noted that the number of individuals incarcerated in the UK is monumentally higher than any other country in Western Europe.
“The question is how competent is the current Justice System?,” asked Uba, who had been imprisoned for conspiracy to supply cannabis. “The punishment for the crime far outweighs the cause of the crime. I was in prison with people who had been locked up for violent offences – GBH, attempted murder and murder.
“Someone who is involved in such a minuscule crime, could then be influenced by liaising with people who actually lead a life of crime. Is incarcerating individuals – especially young black males – for cannabis, the right way? I saw for myself the volume of young black males in the prison system for cannabis-related offences.
“Please, let’s leave no cannabis prisoner behind.”
Working for liberation
Highlighting the work of the Last Prisoner Project, which supports people who have been incarcerated on cannabis-related charges out of prison and into work, Norman Reimer, CEO of Fair Trials, a global criminal justice watchdog campaigning for fairness, equality and justice, emphasised that work must be done on a global scale to liberate cannabis prisoners.
Fair Trials is now launching a new initiative with the Last Prisoner Project to redress the harm caused by cannabis prohibition, identifying people in need of legal assistance, and recruiting, training and matching volunteer lawyers to take on their cases.
Reimer commented: “I have seen heartbreak come in all colours, genders, sizes and shapes.
“It’s the heartbreak of trying to use the criminal law – the most awesome use of government power – for the purpose of regulating what people put into their bodies. It’s a disgrace, and we have to do something about it.”
Reimer noted that Fair Trial’s work with the Last Prisoner Project will seek clemency that gives people back their freedom, or relief from the consequences of their conviction and will aim to ensure that criminal records are sealed or expunged.
“It is policy reform via litigation or via advocacy, to make sure that, as these laws are passed, we are not forgetting about these people who are left behind,” said Reimer.
“That has been a problem, and many of the states in the US that have legalised haven’t taken care of the people that were left behind. They were forgotten. It’s no good – to the person who has a conviction, to the person who’s still sitting in jail – legalisation is nothing unless there’s retroactive relief.
“It is truly an obligation as the industry grows that we do this.”
Cross-party group established for recreational cannabis in Europe
#LegaliseitEP is focusing on human rights-based cannabis policy – “it is a matter of freedom”.
The group, made up of MEPs from five different parties, has formed to facilitate discussions around amending policy for the personal use of cannabis in Europe.
As countries such as Malta, Germany and Luxembourg have announced progressive amendments to cannabis policy, the informal interest group is supporting human rights-based policies for the personal use of cannabis.
The group is made up of the MEPs Luke Flanagan of Ireland, The Left; Mikuláš Peksa of the Czech Republic, Greens; Monica Semedo of Luxembourg, Renew; Cyrus Engerer of Malta, S&D; and, Dorian Rookmaker of The Netherlands, ECR.
In an open letter to 705 members of the European Parliament, the group states that Member States should have the autonomy to create cannabis policy that reflects the needs and specificities of their society.
As well as encouraging the MEPs to join the group, the open letter also calls for more information sharing between Member States regarding recreational cannabis and for fact-based discussion on cannabis, which the group says has been subject to misinformation for a long time.
The letter states: “Due to outdated and unpredictable patchwork of legislation, citizens across the EU are often finding themselves being forced to turn to the black market or even worse, imprisoned for being in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. This does not reflect the level of freedom we have come to expect from living in Europe.
“We cannot deny that with new legislation coming forward within EU Member States, we are likely to find ourselves facing repercussions at an EU level. As MEPs, we want to build on this momentum and create a cross-party interest group within the European Parliament, where we will share best practices, talk to experts, organise hearings and conferences, as well as debate the situation of personal use of cannabis within the Union.”
Monica Semendo, of Luxembourg’s Renew, stated: “I am in favour of the legalisation of cannabis and cannabis products because it is a matter of freedom.
“It’s a matter of one’s own choice. And if someone decides to consume cannabis, they should have access to a safe product.
“We have to focus on transparent information, education programmes and risk reduction, especially for young adults.”
Cyrus Engerer of Malta’s S&D, stated: “People should have the right to take autonomous informed decisions about their lives, including whether or not they use cannabis.
“Let’s talk basics. No one should go to jail over a joint. And now for some real talk – many people still are.
“Where I come from – Malta – we are the first European country to fully legalise cannabis use Germany, and Luxembourg will soon follow it. It’s time that we talk about cannabis and our personal freedoms and rights.”
Hear what the founding members of #LegaliseitEP have to say about why they’ve decided to launch a cross party @Europarl_EN interest group on #Cannabis & #CannabisLegalisation @lukeming @RookmakerDorien @MonicaSemedoLux @vonpecka @engerer pic.twitter.com/b20NDFOAmg
— Legalise It EP (@LegaliseIt_EP) July 14, 2022
Greenrise welcomes cannabis policy developments in Germany
The company is preparing for the potential legalisation of adult-use cannabis in Germany.
Greenrise Global Brands has welcomed recent developments in Germany as it awaits guidelines from the German Government in the coming months.
Germany’s “traffic light” coalition made plans to legalise recreational cannabis official in November 2021 with the publication of its agreement.
The coalition, which includes the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and The Greens, agreed to legalise the controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for “pleasure purposes”. With a focus on health-oriented cannabis policy, the development aims to move consumers away from the black market, control quality of products and ensure the protection of minors.
This year, five hearings are planned throughout to discuss the legislative process on the controlled supply of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes, with the first meeting being held in June, at the Federal Ministry of Health.
The Federal Government is anticipated to submit a draft law to Parliament (Bundestag) by the end of 2022.
Greenrise Global, which has a wholly-owned medical cannabis subsidiary, AMP Alternative Medical Products GmbH that imports EU-GMP medical cannabis from within the European Union and elsewhere and has well-established relationships with pharmacies and clinics across Germany, has welcomed the development.
Supporter of the health benefits of cannabis and a keystone shareholder and director of Greenrise, as well as co-founder of CannaCare Health, Frank Otto, commented: “The consultation process shows that Germany is no longer talking about whether to legalise adult-use, but how.
“We also believe that there will be a domino effect as European countries are watching very closely as Europe’s largest economy joins Canada and California in legalising cannabis for adult use.”
AMP Alternative Medical Products has reported that preliminary unaudited sales for first half year 2022 increased 14 per cent to €268,479 compared to sales of €236,399 during the first half year of 2021.
Greenrise acquired 51 per cent of CannaCare, which sells CBD wellness products through traditional retail channels in Germany and German-speaking markets in Europe, at the beginning of Q2. The company has reported that preliminary Q2 unaudited sales for CannaCare increased 187 per cent to €474,000 compared to Q1 2022 sales of €165,000.
Managing director of AMP and director of Greenrise, Dr Stefan Feuerstein, said: “The exceptional sales growth from CannaCare during the second quarter confirms our strategy of investing in CBD in addition to medical cannabis as we prepare for the potential legalisation of adult-use in Germany.
“We look forward to the government providing guidelines in the coming months, which will provide certainty on how and when to position our businesses.
“We expect pharmacies to play a significant role and are preparing our pharmacy customers for the possibility of selling adult-use products as well as soon as legislation is in effect. We also realigned our medical cannabis business by streamlining our medical sales team, offering more pharmaceutical cannabis products to doctors to prescribe and are preparing to import high-THC flowers from several European cultivators.”
CFO of CannaCare, Dr Tilman Spangenberg, commented: “Greenrise’s investment allowed CannaCare to launch its CBD products in three leading German drugstore chains, which dramatically increased sales in a very short period of time.
“We expect the full impact of this sales channel to unfold in the third as well as fourth quarter. Our priorities for the remainder of this year are to grow CannaCare’s sales and operating cash flow positive by introducing new sales channels and adding additional drugstore chains.”
Switzerland’s amendment on medical cannabis comes into force
The Swiss government announced in June that rules for medical cannabis will be simplified.
Today, 1 August 2022, Switzerland’s amendments to its Narcotics Act come into force, which will allow patients in the country easier access to medical cannabis.
Switzerland has now joined a number of countries across Europe that are enabling patient access to cannabis by removing its ban on the medicine.
Previously, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) required exceptional approval for use of medical cannabis. This reduced patient access to cannabis as administrative processing was unable to keep up with the demand from potential patients.
The use of medical cannabis will now be subject to regular control measures. The defined limit of at least 1.0% total THC content remains unchanged.
Under the new amendments, medical prescriptions will no longer require an exceptional permit from the FOPH. Cannabis will be reallocated from Switzerland’s Narcotics List Ordinance list from List d, which is prohibited narcotics, to List a, which is all substances subject to control measures), along with preparations such as extracts, resins, oils and tinctures.
Dronabinol and THC will now also be included List a “provided there is an intended medical purpose”.
The new amendment enables doctors to make the decision on whether a patient requires a medical cannabis prescription, speeding up the process of accessing the medicine for patients.
The medicine will now enter Switzerland’s pharmaceutical system and controlled by the health authority SwissMedic, which will be taking over the role of the country’s Cannabis Agency for the cultivation of medical cannabis.
Under the amendments, there will be a two-stage authorisation procedure, which will require an establishment licence and an individual licence for the cultivation of medical cannabis.
SwissMedic has stated that the handling of cannabis for non-medical purposes continues to be generally prohibited and will continue to require an exemption from the FOPH.
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