Europe’s known for its cultural landmarks and rich history, but what about cannabis? Aside from Amsterdam, the unofficial Mecca for marijuana enthusiasts, the continent doesn’t always get due credit for its cannabis culture. Today, let’s explore how the cannabis plant made its way to Europe in the first place and how modern European governments treat cannabis today.
How Cannabis Got To Europe
In the beginning, cannabis likely originated somewhere in the area that we refer to as China and Mongolia today. The ancient humans who lived in this region quickly found myriad uses for this versatile plant. In fact, the efforts of archeologists and anthropologists reveal that cannabis is one of the earliest crops ever intentionally cultivated by humans.
Cannabis seeds were a staple in Ancient Chinese diets. The plant’s bast fibers were used to make some of the earliest examples we have of clothing, paper, and other textiles, and evidence suggests that the psychotropic properties of cannabis may have been utilized in Ancient Chinese folk medicine.
With so many practical uses, it’s easy to see why cannabis cultivation spread to other cultures like a weed. Coastal farmers likely introduced the islands of Korea and Japan to the crop, and conflicts with the Aryan tribes that inhabited Northern India would have brought the plant to the South Asian subcontinent around 2000 BCE, but that doesn’t explain how cannabis made its way to Europe.
We can probably attribute that Western proliferation to the Scythians—a nomadic people who dominated the European half of the Great Steppes during early human history. These Scythian people would have brought cannabis from Central China to the Middle East and what is now Southeastern Russia. From there, Germanic tribes, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxon armies would spread cannabis throughout the rest of Europe during the first five centuries in the Common Era.
Cannabis Prohibition Begins In Europe
For these ancient cultures, cannabis functioned as much more than just a recreational drug, or even medicine. The plant’s fibrous stalks made world exploration possible. Hemp was essential to the creation of sails, ropes, and other maritime necessities.
Without it, colonial empires like Great Britain couldn’t have been nearly as expansive, and the entire world would likely look a lot different than it does today. So how does a crop once so critical to the textile economy wind up banned?
On a global scale, it isn’t until the early 20th century that we begin to see individual nations start enacting cannabis prohibition laws in mass. In 1925 the League of Nations, a global diplomatic group started after WW1, which would eventually evolve in the United Nations, added cannabis to their list of prohibited substances at the International Opium Convention.
This landmark decision, which ironically took place in the Netherlands, would set the tone for future country-specific anti-cannabis laws. Just three years after the convention, the United Kingdom would sign into a law banning cannabis products from the country, setting into motion a domino effect that would affect the entire world.
Can You Buy Legal Cannabis In Europe Today?
Today, many countries across the globe have begun reversing prohibition laws, and in general, cannabis use isn’t seen as taboo as it was even fifteen years ago. However, this doesn’t mean you can fly with cannabis to Europe like it’s a pack of cigarettes.
Unlike in America, where certain states have implemented full-on legal cannabis markets, European countries have been resistant to recreational marijuana. Instead, across the pond you’ll find allowances for medical marijuana and decriminalization, but for the most part, you can’t buy legal cannabis in Europe.
The exception to this, of course, being the Netherlands. The Dutch government hasn’t technically legalized cannabis. However, there are cannabis cafes where one can sit down and legally purchase cannabis to smoke.
However, you’re not allowed to transport the cannabis outside of the cafe itself. They function much like a bar, where you can’t purchase liquor to drink at home, except with weed. The Dutch city of Amsterdam is particularly infamous among marijuana enthusiasts for these cafes.