How Europe is Getting it Wrong on Cannabis

Progressive European marijuana policy is likely being hindered by the vast majority of EU citizen cannabis users who mix tobacco with their marijuana. In fact, this practice is so common that Americans such as myself seem out of place in Europe when we smoke joints, pipes or bongs consisting of pure marijuana. But more importantly, the European practice of mixing tobacco with marijuana also means that it’s no wonder Europe isn’t advancing the medical marijuana agenda like in North America.

Most marijuana users in Europe mix tobacco with cannabis. In the 2014 Global Drug Survey, the authors sampled 38,000 cannabis users and concluded that while just 7% of American cannabis users add tobacco to their marijuana, more than 80% of cannabis users from other countries do so as a matter of practice.

In my personal and professional experience, this number is probably about 10% higher for Europeans specifically. For example, when I lived in the Netherlands, I found that nearly everyone I met and interacted with in the cannabis industry mixed tobacco with weed. I was always the “odd man out,” and my practice of rolling fat, filter-less joints of pure cannabis raised many an eyebrow.

Conversely, everyone around me in the Netherlands smoked their weed with tobacco, despite the fact that the Dutch recently made it illegal to smoke tobacco in public places. My experience in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Utrecht is that this is policy but not practice, although famed travel expert and marijuana activist Rick Steves claims that in most cases where a Dutch coffeeshop is busted or harassed by authorities, it’s because of tobacco, not marijuana.

My work with the cannabis clubs of Catalonia has also shown that 90% or more of social club members in Spain add tobacco to their marijuana. I have worked with dozens of clubs and spent hundreds of hours inside clubs conducting interviews, providing consultations and gathering information. As was the case when I lived among the Dutch, Catalonians and Spaniards categorically mix tobacco and cannabis. Again, my American-style practices of smoking pure weed in filter-less joints surprised most of my fellow socios. In fact, there have been many times while hanging out in clubs like La Mesa, Dr. Dou or Green Age where strangers identified me as an American simply by watching me roll a pure joint from across the room.

I have had a number of discussions and even some good-natured arguments about this practice. My personal belief is that mixing tobacco with marijuana is not only bad for the individual, it’s bad for the people around them and for the entire legalization movement, and it does nothing to advance marijuana policy for medical users. The following are the 6 most common arguments I have heard for why Europeans mix tobacco and marijuana and my most common summarized rebuttals:

1. Raw Marijuana is too Strong

This is the most common argument in support of mixing tobacco and weed. However, it just doesn’t make sense. Instead of exercising self-control by only consuming a “hit” or two at a time, the solution is to add toxic tobacco to dilute the cannabis? That’s just not logical. Of course, this inevitably leads to argument #2.

2. Mixing with Tobacco makes it Last Longer

The second most common reason given by Europeans who smoke tobacco and marijuana together is that it makes joints last longer. Whether simply to prolong the social activity of smoking a joint or to save money by extending the duration of a smoking session, this argument seems to be the hardest to rebut, but it’s really not. This practice means that Europeans are seemingly willing to compromise their health in order to extend the life and/or duration of their cannabis or smoking session.

Instead, I argue that smoking practices should simply change. For instance, the few people that I know in Europe who only smoke pure weed do exactly what I do; roll a joint and take a few puffs, then put it out and socialize, then fire it up again when we want a few more puffs, and so on. We enjoy the experience for as long as anyone else and our pot goes a long way. It’s not like because we “purists” only use marijuana that we run out of weed sooner than tobacco mixers, spend more money for our consumption or that our socializing comes to an end sooner. We simply moderate our use differently and without the added health risks and complications attributed to tobacco use.

3. They Like the Taste of Tobacco

Some people just like the taste of tobacco. There really isn’t a way to argue against this point except that if a person enjoys the specific taste of tobacco so much, then why not just smoke tobacco? Meaning, if the taste of tobacco is so enjoyable, why adulterate it with marijuana? And why force everyone around you to inhale your dangerous second-hand smoke simply because you have a preference for the taste of tobacco?

Most Europeans Mix Tobacco with Marijuana

4. They Don’t Like the Taste of Weed

This is sort of like saying “I don’t like the taste of broccoli so I smother it in arsenic sauce before eating it.” If the primary complaint is the taste of marijuana, there are a number of things that can be tried before resorting to mixing weed with toxic tobacco. For instance, there are hundreds of different cannabis strains in circulation, all with different taste and flavor profiles. Chances are that a tolerable strain can be found. Otherwise, why not try dabbing or vaporizing, which offers a completely different experience and taste/flavor/aroma? This latter suggestion is even healthier than smoking pure marijuana.

5. They Need Tobacco Mix to Roll a Joint Properly

Although I listed this excuse at #5, this is one of the more common rationales I have heard for mixing tobacco with cannabis. Apparently, many Europeans believe or have personal experience that a joint of pure weed cannot be rolled properly. The list of problems with rolling pure joints usually include inability to roll without clumping, inability to roll without tearing, inability to “tuck” the paper, and inability to keep a pure joint lit continuously.

I call bullshit on all of these excuses. I’ve rolled and smoked thousands of pure, filter-less joints and never had a problem. My joints are large, straight, evenly distributed, properly packed and burn cleanly and evenly to the end once lit. Occasionally I’ll have a joint that runs down the side, but this is rare and is also quickly fixed.

You can’t argue that my success with rolling pure joints is due to the fact that I’m a veteran joint roller; most of the 420-friendly people that I know in the United States and Canada roll pure joints without any problems at all. In fact, most of the people in the circles I travel in within the US cannabis industry would laugh at the list of problems Europeans give concerning joint rolling.

6. They’ve Always Done it that Way – Tradition

This is a lame excuse regardless of the subject matter to which it is applied. The year is 2015; we know that tobacco is a toxic, noxious, obnoxious substance. If you’re mixing tobacco with your weed just because it’s what you’ve always done, you need to wake up and smell the terpenes.

Conclusion

This isn’t a bitch-fest with a petty matter at heart. This is a serious problem. How can Europe expect to advance marijuana as a medicine when 90%+ of the people who use it – including medical users – mix it with health-damaging tobacco?

And how many people such as myself must breathe in this second hand-smoke, which has been shown to be especially nasty and causes a multitude of serious health problems?

Any time a European argues in favor of mixing tobacco with cannabis, they need to be reminded of three important facts:

  • Tobacco smoke is dangerous to personal health
  • Tobacco smoke damages the health of those around the smoker
  • The custom of mixing tobacco and marijuana likely slows the progress of marijuana activism

Ultimately, the real reason that so many Europeans continue to put tobacco in their marijuana is because they are addicted to tobacco. The nicotine found in tobacco is one of the most addictive substances known to man. So while the majority of Europeans who mix tobacco with marijuana might argue that they do so for one of the 6 reasons listed in this article, the reality is that most of them are doing so because they are addicted to tobacco.

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