Germany’s left-leaning coalition government aims to make good on its 2021 commitment to legalize recreational cannabis for adults within the next two years. If it succeeds, Germany will be the second country in Europe, after Malta, to officially legalize adult-use marijuana.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the German government hopes to release a draft bill of the legislation by the end of 2022, explains Dario Sabaghi in a June article for Forbes. In preparation for that stated goal, the government hosted a series of five consultative hearings this summer designed to gather perspectives from over 200 local and international experts in several fields, including economics, public health, and cannabis cultivation and distribution. Burkhard Blienert, Commissioner for Addiction and Drug Issues and a key participant in the discussions, announced a start date of June 13th for the hearings.
Forbes reported in May that several other government officials, including Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, Finance Minister Christian Lindner, and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann had alerted the public to the beginnings of the legalization process and had acknowledged the end-of-year timeline for a draft bill. Some of the topics under consideration in the hearings and behind the scenes include:
- Choosing a regulatory model for cultivation and distribution
- Deciding whether to mandate a maximum THC level for marijuana products
- Determining whether to allow home cultivation of cannabis
- Ensuring the protection of minors
- Deciding on a tax rate and licensing guidelines
- Challenging the black market for cannabis
- Establishing standards for cannabis marketing
With regards to the first point, officials are reviewing distribution and consumption models in other countries, such as the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States, to decide on what might work best for Germany, explains Niklas Kouparanis in Benzinga. While cannabis is not technically legal in the Netherlands, the government tolerates the sale of small amounts of marijuana through a coffee-shop model, which Amsterdam has popularized for locals and tourists alike.
Kouparanis argues that Germany is more likely to consider something like the dispensary model or social consumption lounges found in places like California and Alaska. A social consumption lounge for cannabis operates much like a bar for alcohol. Adults of legal age can purchase and consume regulated marijuana products in a social setting. Much like a bartender, a “budtender” assists patrons with their cannabis purchases and ensures adherence to government regulations for safety and quality.
Dispensaries, popular in Colorado, California, and Canadian cities, are similar to social consumption lounges but do not necessarily allow for the consumption of marijuana on the premises. Instead, the focus of the dispensary is to sell or distribute cannabis to the customers. As in a social consumption lounge, a “budtender” is responsible for helping customers understand their options when making purchase selections.
The German Cannabis Agency oversees Germany’s medical cannabis program, which relies upon pharmacies to distribute medical cannabis to patients. Pharmacists are responsible for educating patients about medical cannabis and ensuring that patient needs are met. Germany might also consider involving its pharmacies in the distribution of recreational cannabis, just as American dispensaries often serve both adult-use and medical-use populations.
Technically, any type of legalization plan that includes selling and distributing marijuana would violate the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, reports Philip Oltermann with The Guardian. The purpose of the Single Convention is “to combat drug abuse by coordinated international action. There are two forms of intervention and control that work together. First, it seeks to limit the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively for medical and scientific purposes. Second, it combats drug trafficking through international cooperation to deter and discourage drug traffickers.” Canada and Uruguay have ignored the single convention, and Germany will have to decide whether to follow their lead or withdraw from the convention. Oltermann argues that Germany’s decision to legalize cannabis could move the UN closer to policy reform with regard to marijuana.
Whichever distribution model Germany selects, experts predict that recreational cannabis will be an enormous boon to the economy. Dr. Justus Haucap, a German economist, predicts that the industry will bring Germany an estimated 4.7 billion euros a year in combined tax revenue and savings to the criminal justice system.
While acknowledging the economic impact, the German government insists that safety is the primary factor driving legalization efforts. Government officials hope to eliminate the black market for marijuana by controlling the modes of cultivation and distribution. Fighting the black market and illegal trafficking, they argue, will help keep Germany’s youth safe while curbing the distribution of dangerous, contaminated marijuana products.
With these goals in mind, a delegation from the German Parliament’s Health Committee recently visited legal cultivation and distribution operations in California to learn more about the state’s legal cannabis industry, reports Kyle Jaeger for Marijuana Moment. German lawmakers met with industry activists and investors and asked questions about social equity policies, public health considerations, and the risks of legalization. Prior to the California tours, German legislators also met with officials in Malta, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands to discuss cannabis policy and legalization efforts.
The government may view the economic impact as secondary, but both local and foreign investors are eying the profitability of legalization in Germany, which represents the largest economy in Europe. As noted this week in Bloomberg, London-based company British American Tobacco recently invested $37.6 million in the German cannabis company Sanity Group GmbH. The Berlin-based startup also secured funding from Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital, Alyssa Milano, and Will.I.Am.
Legalization in Germany could still be a couple of years away. For now, possession of cannabis is decriminalized, and residents can participate in an extensive medical cannabis program. Once legal, Marijuana Moment reports, the German government plans to continue its commitment to public health by monitoring the impact on society and reviewing the data after four years. Additionally, the government hopes to implement further drug reform, such as “drug-checking services” that would allow people to test drugs for contaminants. For Germany, public health is primary.