A small town in Estonia recently announced they would be placing a hemp leaf on their flag, a traditional crop for the region. And while it may be tempting to think of this as simply local flavor, this decision says a lot about changing attitudes towards cannabis in Europe.
Kanepi, a region and a town in the south eastern part of Estonia is traditionally known for its production of hemp. Now a municipality, Kanepi takes its name from the plant locals have harvested for generations. 'Kanep' means cannabis in the local lingo.
The region recently went through a local government reorganization. In the process, several different municipalities merged and voted on a new flag. And guess what plant will now feature prominently?
An online poll in January to determine the future of the flag’s design brought in 12,000 votes for the canna-friendly favorite. That is even more astonishing considering that the village of Kanepi is not only rural but has less than 5,000 residents. Despite this discrepancy in vote tallies, local council members recently (if not reluctantly) conceded to popular opinion. The split in their vote tally? 9 in favor and 8 against.
Changing Times and Changing Industries
Cannabis reform has not hit Europe in the same way it has in the American continent, but it is still traveling an interesting path.
In Estonia, cannabis has been decriminalized, but possession of up to 7.5 grams is still considered a misdemeanor. Doctors can prescribe cannabis to patients, but it is still hard to find a physician that will do so. Germany remains the only country on the continent where the drug is now covered under health insurance—albeit still as a drug of last resort. German cultivation of cannabis however, has been kicked into a delay pattern that some industry insiders are predicting will take at least through next year to resolve. In the meantime, suppliers for the German market importing from Canada and establishing grow operations in Portugal, Spain, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and Switzerland. Greece is also looking to the medical marijuana industry as a fix for its national debt.
A flag, in other words, is actually small potatoes for what is going on elsewhere in the immediate vicinity. But as a symbol, it captures a regional zeitgeist perfectly.
Cannabis Euro Spring?
On a continent where the conversations about the say-so of nation-states against the overarching regulatory mandates of the EU are still an issue, this kind of local determinative act is significant. It is also precisely the kind of danger signal that local officials are not only highly susceptible to these days, but really afraid of.
The People Are For Reform. The Politicians, in General, Are Not.
In Germany, last year, the Bundestag voted unanimously to mandate that medical cannabis must be covered under German public health insurance. And no matter how reluctantly this was done, it was a landmark moment for cannabis activists. In Estonia, with a public service infrastructure and economy that is far less solid, the fact that the locals have now forced the authorities to hoist their loyalties for all to see should be seen as similarly groundbreaking.