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Germany Passes Marijuana Legalization Measure

As of Monday, April 1, Germany has become the latest country in Europe to decriminalize marijuana. Moreover, additional measures in the coming months will expand access to marijuana across the country, though some legislators have pledged to undo these measures if they win the upcoming national elections.

According to the Associated Press, adults in Germany over 21 can now legally possess up to 25 grams of marijuana for recreational use, or a little less than an ounce. Furthermore, adults can also grow up to three marijuana plants for their own use.

Currently, adults over 18 but younger than 21 cannot possess marijuana. However, starting July 1, German residents 18 and older can join nonprofit “cannabis clubs” and purchase marijuana from these organizations. Each cannabis club can have up to 500 members, and club members can buy up to 25 grams per day but no more than 50 grams in a month. Adults cannot join more than one club at a time, and adults under 21 can only buy 30 grams per month.

Members will cover the costs of running these cannabis clubs by paying membership fees. The AP reports clubs will use a staggered fee structure, with members paying different amounts depending on how much marijuana they buy,

Finally, the legalization measure also calls for legal amnesty for those serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses. The authorities will review these cases and, if the offense is no longer legal under the new marijuana laws, reverse them. This amnesty measure could allow thousands of people currently serving drug-related offenses to go free or avoid harsh penalties. However, the AP says regional authorities in Germany are worried about the potential burden on the judicial system, given the number of cases that will come up for review.

Germany Legalization Had a Tumultuous Path to Passage

Germany’s marijuana legalization measure faced a difficult road to passage through the country’s legislature. The measure was a prominent reform measure supported by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party, but it did not enjoy universal support.

The AP reports that while the measure passed with strong support in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, its fate in the upper house of the Bundesrat looks less rosy.

During the debate over the legalization measure in the Bundestag, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said one of the goals was to “fight the black market” for cannabis and better protect Germany’s young people. The AP reports that rates of cannabis consumption have risen sharply in recent years and that there are increasing problems with overly strong or contaminated cannabis.

“Whatever we do, we can’t carry on like this,” Lauterbach told lawmakers during the debate over the legalization measure. “You can stick your head in the sand[…] but we won’t solve a single problem that way.”

Scholz’s party does not have as much support in the Bundesrat as it does in the Bundestag. Unlike the Bundestag, whose legislators are popularly elected, the Bundesrat represents the 16 state governments of Germany, and its legislators are appointed by their respective governments – many of which are led by parties that are more conservative than Scholz’s Social Democratic Party.

Legalization opponents in the Bundesrat attempted to send the measure to a mediation committee that settles disputes between the two houses of Parliament, which supporters feared would effectively block its passage entirely. However, legalization opponents were unable to find the necessary votes to force the issue.

Passed Measure Still Falls Short of Original Plan

While the recent changes to German law are good news for cannabis supporters and users, the measure as passed falls well short of the original, more ambitious plan for marijuana reform. The AP reports that the original reform measure, had it passed, would have allowed for the sale of marijuana to adults over 21 nationwide at licensed outlets. This approach is similar to what many states here in the U.S. have done in recent years. Ultimately, German lawmakers scaled back their reform plans after meeting with members of the European Commission. Still, Germany could expand its legalization and decriminalization efforts down the road, depending on the results of the current measures.

Legalization Faces Stiff Resistance Among Some Lawmakers

Germany’s experiment with marijuana legalization could be short-lived, depending on the result of the upcoming federal elections. Ahead of the Bundesrat vote to send the legalization measure to the mediation committee (which ultimately failed), Opposition leader Friedrich Merz vowed that his party would reverse the measure if they win the elections in 2025.

The legalization measure also faces some resistance from local German authorities. AP reports indicate the conservative state government in Bavaria is exploring potential legal action to thwart the legalization plan. Such action could hamper legalization efforts in Bavaria and, potentially, throughout Germany.

Germany at Forefront of Legalization, Decriminalization in EU

The results of Germany’s reform measures could set the tone for wider reforms across Europe. As the largest country in the European Union by both population and economic output, its efforts toward marijuana legalization and decriminalization carry considerable weight.

Malta and Luxembourg are the only other European Union countries that allow limited quantities of recreational marijuana. Contrary to popular belief, it is illegal to grow, possess, or sell marijuana in the Netherlands. The sale of cannabis products is tolerated in the country’s infamous coffee shops, and possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis has been decriminalized.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spain and Portugal have decriminalized marijuana possession in recent years, though it’s not fully legal like in Germany or parts of the U.S. However, large countries like France and the United Kingdom still have harsh penalties for marijuana possession. These penalties can include incarceration in France and many Scandinavian countries.

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