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The Maastricht Diplomat

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The Economics of Sustainable Cannabis Trade

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

For a Sustainable International Cannabis Trade of the Future

Design: Cam Nghiem

Cannabis users of Maastricht are no strangers to coffeeshops such as Smokey, Roundabout, and Rastafarihouse. Since the Dutch Government’s enactment of the tolerance policy in 2013, cannabis has steadily become an integral element of the student life in the Netherlands, not just Maastricht. Contrary to popular belief, this situation does not raise the question of morality or substance abuse, but the question of sustainability.

Coffeeshops usually sell their pre-roll joints in plastic vial tubes, cannabis in plastic dimebags and other items such as plastic lighters and plastic grinder. These plastic packaging and items are detrimental to the environment if they become waste that is not processed properly. Therefore, instead of treating them as single-use plastic, cannabis users can bring their plastic vial tubes or plastic dimebags back to the coffeeshops that sell them where they can be reused.

However, as history has shown, in the case of single-use plastic bags and plastic water bottles, it is not reliable to fight plastic pollution with just the good conscience of the consumers.

Governmental interventions are a necessary requirement to nudge cannabis users into more effective sustainable practices. One possible policy is the requirement of coffeeshop owners to put a price on these plastic vial tubes. Such a policy shall work in the same manner as the one implemented in stores throughout the Netherlands such as Jumbo and HEMA, where consumers are forced to pay an additional price for a plastic grocery bag or find a cheaper alternative. The objective behind the price requirement of cannabis plastic vital tubes and their plastic grocery bags is to make buyers aware of their active purchase of plastic packaging items.

One might dismiss the above discussion on environmentally friendly cannabis consumption as insignificant and regard discussion of cannabis legalisation as more important. However, the author believes that these two discussions must happen simultaneously. The trend on cannabis legalisation is optimistic. The Guardian reports that Luxembourg has become the first country in Europe to legalise cultivation and consumption of cannabis. The country also permits trade in cannabis seeds with no limitation on Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychedelic substance in cannabis (see the Guardian). In addition, the current coalition of Germany which includes Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats — the biggest economy in the European Union — has also agreed to the possibility of a regulated trade of cannabis which provides for cannabis consumption. The question of legal cannabis cultivation in Germany, nevertheless, remained unanswered (see Politico).

The aforementioned cases suggest the possibility of a future where cannabis falls under the Brussels effect. The Brussels effect was first discovered by Anu Bradford — a Finish-American Professor of Law and International Organization at the Columbia Law School in New York, United States. Ms. Bradford documented how the market size, the market importance, and the regulatory capacity of the institutions of the European Union have in fact forced international corporations to comply with the high standard of the European Union, even in markets outside of the Union despite the lack of the Union’s jurisdiction in those markets. If falling under the Brussels effect, cannabis can be regulated by the European Union to have a global impact, especially on countries that decriminalise or legalise cannabis.

To prepare for that moment, an environmental and sustainable discussion on cannabis cultivation, transportation and consumption should start taking place.


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