Luxembourg Government In Race Against The Clock To Pass Long-Awaited Cannabis Legislation Before Elections

LUXEMBOURG’s government has indicated that a long-running campaign for cannabis legalisation may soon make a significant step forward as plans for its state-controlled sale are expected to be submitted imminently.

The country’s Minister of Health, Paulette Lenert, informed local news publication RTL last week that she was confident a draft law would be submitted to the government council in the near future.

Just like Germany, the draft law is expected to be a heavily watered-down version of its original plans for full legalisation, and will also take the form of an ‘experiment’ so as not to breach international law.

While Ms Lenert suggested the news from Germany was a boon for Luxembourg, the current coalition government is now similarly in a race against the clock to deliver some form of legalisation before elections in October.

Long path to legalisation

Luxembourg was one of the first European countries to broach the subject of cannabis legalisation, and has been at the forefront of the international push for reform ever since.

The small European state, which has around 654,000 citizens, passed a law in 2001 to decriminalise cannabis consumption, transportation, possession and acquisition for personal use.

While cannabis use continues to be considered an illicit activity, punishment no longer includes prison sentences, only fines of up to €2,500, unless cannabis is used in front of a minor.

In 2017, the government in Luxembourg announced plans for a two-year pilot programme for medical cannabis, with the draft bill being passed unanimously by the government in July of 2018.

Its medical cannabis programme, unlike many of its counterparts across Europe, allowed general practitioners to prescribe cannabis, rather than seeing this reserved for specialists.

In another parallel to Germany, Luxembourg’s October 2018 elections saw the incumbent coalition, consisting of the Democratic Party, Luxembourg Socialist Workers’ Party, and The Greens, run on a promise of recreational cannabis legalisation.

A key part of the government’s 2018 coalition paper was an agreement between the parties to realise ‘the exemption from punishment or even legalisation’ of cannabis produced within the country.

This put Luxembourg in line to become the first European country to legalise cannabis; however, continued delays to its programme have meant this is no longer a possibility.

Ongoing delays 

The government’s initial declaration of plans for legalisation was made with the caveat that the ‘conditions are still to be determined’, conditions that have continued to remain under consideration for almost the entirety of the coalition’s administration.

Little was heard of the government’s plans over the next three years, with a change of the head of the Ministry of Justice in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic thereafter, continued opposition from the Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) and ‘international constraints’ being blamed for the extended delays.

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Then, in September 2021, following continued accusations of foot dragging and avoiding the issue, Ms Lenert made a surprise announcement that new alternatives to its original legalisation plans were being studied, and a draft bill was due to be published the following month.

At the time, the government told local media that it had ‘worked a lot on this file’, with a working group consisting of seven ministries across security, justice and health taking on the topic.

Then on October 22, 2021, five government ministers announced a ‘package of measures regarding the problem of drug-related crime’, including an update on the long-awaited cannabis legalisation plan.

Scaled-back plans 

The ministers said they would move forward with a proposal to permit the cultivation, from seed only, of up to four cannabis plants per household, enabling adults to consume cannabis at home.

Under the proposals, public consumption would still be banned, but lower penalties would be imposed for possession of up to three grams.

The absence of state-controlled sales of cannabis as promised in the coalition’s election manifesto, blamed on the now familiar issue of EU legal constraints, was criticised by the bill proponents, who claimed it pointed to yet more heel-dragging on the issue.

The bill was subsequently presented to the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies in June 2022, in what many thought represented the first step towards legalisation.

However, even this scaled-back framework hit roadblocks, with the Council of State raising four formal objections to the bill last month, once again throwing the country’s legislation strategy into disarray, with lawmakers stating it would ‘risk exposing them to criticism on the internal level of non-conformity with international law’.

The country’s Ministry of Justice is now understood to be working on amending the text in order for the first stage of the parliamentary process to be completed.

While Ms Lenert has now suggested that a new concept for legalisation in the form of a pilot project should ‘quickly’ pass before the government, she refused to state whether the draft bill was likely to pass before elections in October.

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