Luxembourg is one of few European states that made changes to drug laws well before experiments in legalisation were being undertaken across the world. In April 2001, the government updated a law from 1973 to reclassify cannabis as a class B substance which effectively decriminalised possession.

Luxembourg is Europe’s 8th smallest country with a population of 602,000. It is one of Europe’s most affluent countries with a disposable income per capita at around $39k, $8k higher than France, $9k higher than Belgium and $5k higher than Germany. A huge part of Luxembourg’s appeal comes from its comparatively lower tax rates that are able to draw multinationals to set up their European base in Luxembourg to avoid the higher rates in neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany. Luxembourg’s population is ageing, with around a quarter of the population set to be over-65 by 2060. This represents a huge segment of Luxembourg’s affluent population who by 2060, could be consuming cannabis in some form to deal with the ailments that come with age.

Medical trials and pilot projects laid the foundation

Health Minister Lydia Mutsch announced a medicinal cannabis pilot project in November 2017 after approving the cannabis-based medicine Sativex five years previously. The pilot gave access to medicinal cannabis to those whose ailments and pain were not mitigated by conventional medicine. The project consisted of around 80-100 patients who would receive around 1g of cannabis a day.

The project succeeded, and eventually the government had to ask doctors to stop prescribing medicinal cannabis due to the lack of supply; the Government were prepared for up to 200 patients but ended up with over 250 due to the demand. Eventually, the government began a procurement procedure and ended up securing further supply from the German division of the Canadian Canopy Growth.

Luxembourg punches above its weight in Europe

In November last year, Luxembourg’s government tripled its medical cannabis budget for 2020, with the budget for doctor training and cannabis purchases up to €1.37mn from €350. This level of involvement in cannabis from Luxembourg is felt across Europe, as it typically punches above its weight. Recently, the Deutsche Börse in Frankfurt claimed they were unable to clear stock purchases in cannabis companies since its clearing company was based in Luxembourg, at a time when medical cannabis was illegal in Luxembourg. As soon as the law was changed in Luxembourg, the Deutsche Börse could begin clearing transactions in this industry.

Luxembourg’s population may put more pressure on surrounding European states to harmonise their drug policies with Luxembourg due to their transitory nature. Around 177,000 workers enter Luxembourg on a daily basis for their work, mainly from France, Germany and Belgium. France has a complete ban on cannabis, Germany has legalised medical consumption and Belgium has a tolerance for personal use in small amounts. A lack of harmonisation in drug laws may lead to legal problems in the short term for workers who need medical cannabis, but identification of these issues are likely to push neighbouring governments into a shared drug policy.

Luxembourg occupies a strange space in Europe, similar to Monaco but with more influence. Its size has allowed it to rapidly develop and become a wealthy nation with considerable sway in the EU. Luxembourg is home to 11 EU institutions, including the Court of Justice for the European Union and many smaller European financial bodies. Luxembourg is only second to Brussels as a seat of power in the EU and therefore, has the ability to push its own policies through the EU more effectively than most countries.

A government open evidence-based change

Luxembourg has already begun pushing Europe in the direction of change. They have announced and confirmed plans to be the first European country to legalise recreational cannabis. Deputy Prime Minister Ettienne Schneider told Politico, “This drug policy we had over the last 50 years did not work, I’m hoping all of us will get a more open-minded attitude toward drugs.” The Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg said he was keen for other EU countries to follow their path.

Luxembourg has demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of what the issues are surrounding cannabis’ legal status, but also seem to know what it needs to become successful, “Legalizing cannabis requires many more steps than just declaring the substance legal. You need an entire regulatory market, including setting taxes and quality checks.”

What separates Luxembourg from other European markets is the level of leadership in government, and the financial clout the country can exercise in Europe. Over a period of time, various figures in the Luxembourgian government have committed to medical cannabis as a result of evidence and studies. Positive results from the initial trials provided the impetus to push for full legalisation. While neighbouring countries look to move slowly, Luxembourg sees no reason for this and is pushing ahead more quickly to legalise recreational cannabis.

Luxembourg may end up forcing harmonisation in cannabis policy

Germany has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis and is running into problems with their medical cannabis programme, there is no appetite to campaign for recreational legalisation from within the government. The French Government have made it clear that despite the national trial with medical cannabis, they have absolutely no plans to legalise the drug. If Luxembourg is able to generate positive track record after legalisation, alongside their influence in the EU, it may be enough to convince neighbouring countries that they need to move quicker on cannabis legislation.

Luxembourg’s position in the EU makes it a leader in some respects. Malte Goetz, a lawyer in the German medical cannabis industry has said, “The social pressure will be so high that if you have legalization in one of the EU member states, soon that will be discussed seriously in the other ones.”  Luxmbourg have big plans for cannabis in their own country, but could be the catalyst for change across Europe.

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