The incoming German government’s promise to legalise recreational cannabis for adults puts it on track to follow some US states, Canada and a handful of other countries that permit regulated and taxed cannabis sales through licensed dispensaries. Despite immediate criticism of the plan from the outgoing conservative government, it’s almost certain to come to fruition.
Personal possession of cannabis is already tolerated in Germany, with prosecutors having the option to refrain from acting in cases of small amounts for personal use, and a medical cannabis programme is in place.
The 24th November proposal by the new “traffic light” coalition of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party to allow recreational cannabis includes plans for quality controls, preventing transfer of contaminated substances, guaranteeing the protection of minors, and promoting broader drug harm reduction measures.
The three parties said they would review the social impact of the law four years after it’s implemented – which may not be until 2024, according to Joscha Krauss, chief executive of CBD firm MH Medical Hemp.
“It’s a great victory for the whole cannabis industry and a triumph for reason,” Krauss told CBD-Intel. “I think nobody really expected it to happen that fast and we all were surprised by that decision. However, we can expect a long, drawn-out process which will take at least until 2023 if not 2024.”
Questions still to be answered
Kai-Friedrich Niermann, a lawyer who advises major CBD and medical cannabis companies as well as the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), agrees. He says work on the new bill will begin in December, followed by debates and hearings throughout 2022 to work out the details.
“There are still many questions to be answered,” Niermann said. “What will be the details of the social responsibility required by the cannabis control law? How high should the tax be?
“What will be the minimum distances from schools and kindergartens, and how can the number of specialist stores in municipalities be limited without creating an under-supply? How will the quality of dried flowers, as well as vaping, edibles and beverages, be regulated? How will the supply chain be ensured?”
Krauss added to the list of issues that must be hammered out before recreational cannabis becomes legal in Germany. These include how companies will be licensed for cultivation, logistics and sales; where cultivation will be permitted; what quality standards will be used; what authority will be responsible for legalisation; tackling conflicts with EU common market regulation; and how to legalise cannabis without disregarding the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which combats drug abuse by coordinated international action.
“The first steps are done and it’s really great to see change happening here in Germany, but I expect a long journey until we get there,” Krauss said.
Arguments for growing your own
Niermann anticipates a final draft law by spring 2023. Germany will then have to present a denunciation of the Single Convention within a year – and then re-enter it with the reservation of cannabis – so the first speciality stores can open on New Year’s morning 2024.
He also expects the new government to decriminalise both recreational cannabis and hemp for consumers within its first 100 days.
Niermann says “it would make sense” to permit home cultivation, as demanded in 2015 under the Alliance ’90/Green Party’s proposed cannabis control law. The draft of this bill, which would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled drugs in Germany’s Narcotics Law, called for adults to be able to acquire and possess up to 30 g of cannabis for their own use or to grow and harvest three cannabis plants.
Proponents of cannabis legalisation in Germany say it could reduce activity on the black market, where there are no quality controls, free police resources and raise tax revenues for prevention and therapy for addiction.
A recent study by the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, commissioned by the German Hemp Association, found that legalising cannabis could add €3.4bn to German tax revenues and bring cost savings in the police and judicial system of €1.3bn a year while creating some 27,000 jobs in the cannabis economy.
Police and public opposition
Yet police unions criticised the plan to authorise recreational cannabis while politicians from conservative political parties including outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) warned that cannabis is a gateway drug.
Many Germans apparently agree. A study published in October found that only 30% of survey respondents thought cannabis should be allowed for recreational use while 59% said it should remain a medicinal product requiring a doctor’s prescription.
Still, there is little likelihood of Germany not following through on its plan to legalise cannabis, making it the first major European economy to do so. Luxembourg last month announced plans to permit adults to grow and consume cannabis.
“I don’t see any issues there, to be honest,” Krauss said. “It’s true that the law needs to go through the Bundesrat [the legislative body that represents Germany’s 16 Länder, or states, at the federal level] but in most states, the conservative CDU party is already in some sort of coalition and it’s a gentleman’s agreement that they don’t vote against laws that the leading parties in the Bundestag [federal parliament] propose. I’ve talked to some people who are more involved in Berlin politics and all of them agreed that this won’t be an issue.”
– Jennifer Freedman CBD-Intel contributing writer
Photo: Kai Vogel