Members of the European Parliament approved a motion for a resolution on cannabis for medicinal purposes on Wednesday, a decision that, though not binding, calls upon the EU’s 28 Member States to prioritize scientific research in the field and reconsider domestic legislation.
This motion, said Marie Nougier, head of research and communications at the International Drug Policy Consortium, should be taken in the context of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s latest report on medicinal cannabis, published in December.
The European Parliament’s vote also comes on the heels of the World Health Organization’s proposal to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 UN Convention. Taken together, said Juan Fernández Ochoa, a spokesperson with the Consortium, prior to the vote, the EU’s “motion is revealing of the [now] quasi-universal acknowledgement of medical cannabis as a legitimate therapeutic avenue.”
“I find it remarkable that this motion for a resolution on medical cannabis has been tabled by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) coming from a very broad range of ideological backgrounds,” Fernández Ochoa wrote in an email to Cannabis Wire (to table legislation means to introduce it). Support for the resolution includes the conservative European People’s Party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the left-leaning United Left-Nordic Green Left.
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Still, Fernández Ochoa emphasized, the motion is for a non-binding resolution, not a directive/regulation by which the EU harmonizes legislation. As a result, the approval of the motion will not translate into immediate wide-ranging law. However, he said, it “could, for instance, galvanise the Commission or the Council and even Member States to dedicate more resources into, say, research/cooperation.” And if very popular, Fernández Ochoa concluded, the motion could ultimately lead to the introduction of a legislative proposal on medical cannabis at the EU level.
MEP Estefanía Torres of Spain, a member of the United Left-Nordic Green Left who launched the resolution through a formal proposal on the matter, celebrated the motion’s approval on Twitter. However, in an interview with El Diario, she recognized that the proposal was initially more ambitious. Because it did not garner enough support, Torres explained, it was ultimately limited to medicinal use. Nevertheless, she described the approval of the resolution as a “great success,” adding that what she seeks is “to open the doors to a debate regarding the comprehensive regulation of cannabis in the EU,” one that addresses crime reduction, the underground economy and the creation of a productive model “capable of invigorating rural areas and generating wealth for the whole of society.”
In a recent interview with HRT4, Croatian MEP Dubravka Šuica, a member of the European People’s Party who also tabled the motion, said that fear of misuse “must not be our reason for not allowing medical cannabis.” Harvesting cannabis, she added, “should be relaxed in some way because there is a great amount of patients today, not only in Croatia but in the rest of the EU.”
During the plenary session on Wednesday, MEP Luke Ming Flanagan of Ireland, who, like Torres, is a member of the United Left – Nordic Green Left, proposed an oral amendment calling for the inclusion of cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis in the resolution.
“Cannabis ruderalis has very low amounts of THC, in comparison to CBD, which is what some people want here,” said Flanagan. “And cannabis indica has a better balance of CBD with THC. So, if you want to do it right, include this.”
More than forty MEPs rose to oppose Flanagan’s proposal. As a result, it was not taken into consideration.
Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, a researcher at “For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think” (FAAAT), an NGO devoted to addressing policy changes toward controlled drugs, plants, products and substances, told Cannabis Wire in an email that even though the “amendments that brought the text closer to [reality] were rejected, such a broad positive vote on this issue is clearly great news, and one of the indirect consequences of the new position adopted by the WHO.”
He added: “I only hope that, through their work, agencies [like the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the European Food Safety Authority] end up correcting what was denied with the amendments, that is, keeping open the possibility of thinking about a system of supply and access to herbal material for medicinal uses.”
Key takeaways from the 18-point motion:
- Points out that the term “medical cannabis” is “largely undefined from a legal point of view” and “remains ambiguous and open to interpretation”
- Calls for “independent research, development, authorisation, marketing and pharmacovigilance,” emphasizing the need for the standardization of products
- Calls on Member States to reconsider legislation on the use of cannabis-based medicines “when scientific research proves that the same positive effect cannot be achieved by using ordinary medicines that do not have addictive effects”
- Stresses the importance of close cooperation and coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO)
This piece was updated from a previous version to reflect the outcome of the vote.
Translation for this piece was provided by Jelena Ćulibrk, a PhD student at USC.