Latvia is famous for its medieval towns, Art Nouveau architecture and watery scenery. Even though it’s more famous for its beer than its view on marijuana, Latvia is home to civic groups that have been petitioning for cannabis decriminalisation since 2012.
As a tourist wandering through Riga’s old town, you may be wondering if you would get in legal trouble for lighting a spliff. What’s the legal situation of cannabis in Latvia? Read on to find out.
Drug laws in Latvia
It is illegal to use, buy and possess drugs in Latvia. However, if Latvian law enforcement officers catch someone with small amounts of drugs, they may treat the offence as an administrative one and let the offender off with a warning or a fine of up to €280. As a rule of thumb, everything over 1 gram of drugs can be considered a large amount and could attract harsher penalties.
But there’s a catch. If offenders are caught possessing, using or buying small amounts of illicit drugs within 12 months of a previous offence, they risk receiving a higher fine, being ordered to community service or, in some cases, being imprisoned for up to three months.
Possessing large amounts of drugs (again, anything over 1 gram), even if they’re destined for personal use, not for trafficking, falls under criminal law and may lead to a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment.
Latvian courts can impose treatment with a suspended prison sentence, and they can release drug users from administrative or criminal liability if they agree to undergo drug treatment. However, there’s no underlying control mechanism for this procedure, so judges pass sentences on a case-by-case basis.
Drug trafficking is punishable with two to eight years of imprisonment for all drugs, depending on the quantity of drugs and aggravating circumstances. Those who sell small amounts of drugs may be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment.
If the offender is part of a criminal group, the sentence can be increased to up to 10 years of imprisonment. If the offender was caught trafficking a large amount of drugs and is part of a criminal organisation, he or she risks prison sentences of up to 15 years.
Cannabis in Latvia
Cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug in Latvia. About 10 percent of young Latvians, aged 15 to 34, admitted to using cannabis in 2017. However, cannabis use is frowned upon and cannabis users risk being discriminated against.
The Latvian Ministry of Welfare lists cannabis as a List I substance or as an especially dangerous narcotic drug. Since cannabis is listed as a highly dangerous drug, cannabis herb or cannabis-based drugs cannot be recommended as a treatment.
However, even if it’s considered a dangerous drug, offenders who are caught with cannabis and have no criminal record tend to receive milder punishments than those who are caught with other drugs.
Despite the government’s harsh stance on cannabis, appeals for cannabis decriminalisation appear from time to time in Latvian media.
Latvian civic groups first tried to decriminalise marijuana back in 2012. Their legal initiative proposed to remove criminal penalties for cannabis cultivation and to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of cannabis by citizens older than 18 years of age. This initiative would have allowed Latvians to grow two or three cannabis plants at home and carry up to 5 grams of cannabis without legal repercussions, but it was not successful.
Then, in 2015, another decriminalisation petition collected over 10,000 signatures, which meant it could be submitted directly to the Latvian parliament. The initiative’s representative, Donats Blaževičs, presented 100 arguments to support the legislation, but the parliament ultimately declined the initiative.
One of the latest appeals for cannabis decriminalisation happened in 2019, when the country’s neighbour, Lithuania, passed a law that allowed medical professionals to prescribe cannabis-based medicine. However, this decriminalisation initiative was also unsuccessful.
Hemp in Latvia
Hemp cultivation is legal in Latvia as long as the plants have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration lower than 0.2 percent. Farmers who have a licence can only cultivate hemp in open fields and are not allowed to grow plants in greenhouses or indoors.
However, farmers have to go through a lengthy process to obtain a licence for hemp cultivation. The licence is not easy to obtain, which means that not many farmers are willing to go through the hassle of getting one.
That being said, thanks to the newly found popularity of hemp, there are now more farmers who apply for hemp-cultivation licences than ever before.
CBD in Latvia
Latvian laws do not mention cannabidiol (CBD), so the substance is now in a legal grey area. Since the law does neither allow nor prohibit CBD, it’s technically not illegal to possess or consume it.
There are several shops that sell CBD in Latvia, and you can find most of them in Riga, especially near crowded tourist areas. The CBD oil you can find usually follows the EU-wide directions, so it has a THC concentration lower than 0.2 percent.
Most CBD users report that they haven’t encountered any problems ordering their CBD products online.
However, since Latvian law does not allow farmers to extract cannabinoids from hemp, it’s impossible to find CBD products that are sourced locally.
The future of cannabis in Latvia
Latvians have a rather negative attitude toward cannabis, but that might change in the future. Even though Latvians have started to grow hemp and decriminalised the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis, they still doubt the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
At the moment, there’s a huge difference in how older and younger generations perceive cannabis. The older generations have no experience with cannabis, and they perceive it as a threat to the wellbeing of society.
On the other hand, the younger generations have been exposed to cannabis, and they understand the plant’s risks and benefits. So, the public opinion is slowly but surely changing.
However, this doesn’t mean that Latvia will decriminalise cannabis anytime soon. Latvia will likely consider decriminalisation only if one of its neighbouring countries manages to decriminalise weed with stellar results.