On October 26, Cannabutter Digest reported on Germany’s plans to legalize marijuana for recreational use. If the planned legislation is adopted, Germany will become one of the first countries in Europe to take this important step. Germany is the European Union’s largest country both by population and economic output, which gives it a leadership role in the region – and, potentially, portends a sea change in how Europe approaches marijuana. As such, it’s time to take a deeper look at this development and what it could mean for legal cannabis throughout the continent.
Under the current proposal, Germany would allow adults to possess up to 30 grams (about one ounce) of cannabis and to grow up to three marijuana plants for personal use. Cannabis users could legally consume the drug in private or public, and criminal proceedings involving cannabis offenses that are no longer unlawful would be terminated. The plan would also create a special consumption tax and establish marijuana education and abuse-prevention programs.
According to German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, it is unlikely that cannabis edibles will be legalized under the proposed legislation, though the possibility is still being explored. The proposal would also likely limit THC content for 18 to 23-year-old marijuana users. Furthermore, the legislation prohibits the advertising of recreational cannabis products and requires products to be sold with neutral packaging.
If the legislation is approved, cannabis will be sold in licensed establishments, including pharmacies. Stores selling cannabis would be prohibited from selling tobacco and alcohol products and could not operate near any schools.
At a press conference in Berlin, Lauterbach stated, “If this law comes to pass, it would be the most liberal project to legalize cannabis in Europe, but also the most regulated market.” He suggested that the German cannabis market could be a model for other European countries to follow.
Some European countries, including Germany, have legalized medical marijuana for limited uses, and others have decriminalized the drug, but few have fully legalized cannabis for recreational use. The Netherlands, which borders Germany to the northwest, decriminalized recreational marijuana for personal use decades ago but still criminalizes growing and selling cannabis and has never created a regulated market.
“What we have learned from the Dutch experience is that we don’t want to do it that way,” Lauterbach said. “We want to control the entire market.” However, before Germany can proceed with legalization, the government must present its proposal to the EU for approval.
The three-party governing coalition led by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz originally signaled that it intended to legalize recreational cannabis at the end of 2021, but the government has faced significant legal hurdles since then, and progress on the law has been slow.
Initially, the German government was concerned that legalizing the drug could violate international treaties, specifically the UN 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs. However, both Canada and Uruguay ignored the convention when they legalized marijuana. The main legal obstacle Germany faces involves EU laws that may conflict with the government’s legalization efforts.
To avoid transgressing EU laws and having the legislation challenged in EU courts, the German government decided to submit an outline of its proposal to the European Commission in Brussels for review. The government has also closely monitored Luxembourg’s plans to legalize cannabis to mitigate the risk of overstepping and infringing on well-established statutes.
If the Commission approves the proposal, the government will proceed with drafting the law. If the plan is not approved, the German government must return to the drawing board. Lauterbach has made it clear that the German government would not proceed with the plan in its present form if the EU rejects it.
Some have advocated for the government to create a contingency plan that Germany can fall back on if the EU issues an unfavorable opinion of the existing proposal. “If the EU Commission says no to Germany’s current approach, our government should seek alternative solutions,” said Bloomwell Group CEO Niklas Kouparanis. Bloomwell Group is one of the most prominent cannabis firms in Germany. “[We can’t] just say: Well, we tried our best,” he continued.
Kouparanis also stated that the German proposal should include a provision allowing for cannabis imports if the plan is approved since it would be impossible for domestic marijuana cultivation to keep up with demand, at least in the near future.
As the Commission considers Germany’s legalization plan, the proposed legislation has generated mixed reactions throughout the country. Some, including members of Germany’s pharmacists’ association, have expressed concern about the health risks associated with making cannabis legal. The trade group said it would create a medical dilemma for pharmacies selling cannabis products. The health minister of Bavaria also expressed reluctance to the government’s plan out of concern that German could become a destination for “drug tourism.”
However, Germany’s Green Party has argued that banning recreational marijuana use has made consumption of the drug riskier for cannabis users. The Greens have made the case that a restrictive legal market forces marijuana users to turn to the unregulated black market. A robust legal market would be safer for users and have myriad benefits for Germany’s economy.
According to Reuters, Germany could increase its yearly tax revenues and cost savings by 4.7 billion Euros ($4.7 billion U.S. dollars) and generate 27,000 jobs by legalizing marijuana. It would also help stamp out the black market, where millions of Germans currently purchase their cannabis, including a sizeable portion of young Germans between the ages of 18 and 24. The primary aim of the proposed law is “better youth and health protection,” according to Lauterbach. Advocates believe that establishing a government-controlled, legal market would accomplish that goal.
Lauterbach stated that if the proposal receives approval from the EU Commission, a draft of the legislation will be ready in early 2023. However, German cannabis enthusiasts and tourists shouldn’t expect the law to take effect before 2024.
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