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The Marijuana Legalisation Push in Germany

Germany is on the verge of introducing a bill to legalize cannabis, with plans that could make it the world’s largest regulated national cannabis market and the first country in the EU to permit its commercial sale. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach stated that the plans had received “very good feedback” from the European Commission and said that the bill could be announced by the end of March or early April. If approved by parliament, the bill could be implemented in phases between now and mid-2024.

The proposed legalization of adult-use cannabis in Germany aims to improve public health. Cannabis would no longer be classified as a narcotic, and citizens over 18 would be permitted to carry up to 30 grams of the drug for personal use. Consumers would also be free to grow up to three plants at home, and licensed stores and pharmacies would be able to sell cannabis products.

High Benefits

Around 4 million people in Germany used cannabis in 2021, and a quarter of all 18- to 24-year-olds in the country have tried it. The purpose of the proposed changes is to increase public oversight and reduce drug-related crime. Legalizing the drug could also create 27,000 new jobs and bring in an additional €4.7 billion ($5 billion) per year in tax revenues, social security contributions, and criminal prosecution savings, according to a 2021 study from the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf.

The proposed legalization of cannabis is part of a series of socially progressive policies proposed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party “traffic light” coalition government. CBD is an active, non-addictive ingredient in cannabis derived from the hemp plant. Its sale has been legal in Germany since 2017, provided that the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the main psychoactive part of cannabis, is below 0.2%. The sale of other weed products is prohibited.

The Red Tape

The government has a fine line to tread in producing a bill that adheres to EU laws, international drug treaties, and public health concerns. EU regulation requires member states to ensure that the sale of illicit drugs, including cannabis, is “punishable by effective, proportionate, and dissuasive criminal penalties.” The proposed plans would also be incompatible with international treaties, including the U.N.’s 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs, although countries like Canada and Uruguay have faced no serious consequences since moving to legalize the drug.

Legalization is not widely supported across Europe, and the majority of European countries do not want to go in this direction. However, Germany’s legalization of cannabis may provide an example to other European countries that legalization can be successful. Franjo Grotenhermen, Executive Director of the International Alliance for Cannabinoid Medicines, commented, “The majority of European countries don’t want to go in this direction. But nobody would have thought 10 years ago that Germany would.”

Steffen Geyer, director of Hanf Museum, a Berlin-based hemp museum, described the proposed legalization of cannabis in Germany as “the heart of the German legalization movement for the past 30 years.” He stated, “May 1 [2023] will be seen as the day Germany legalized cannabis [for personal use],” and commercial legalization would likely follow next year. “Cannabis in Germany will be a success story, I’m sure. The future’s green.” Martin Chodorowski, account manager at Tom Hemp’s, a Berlin-based CBD retailer, welcomed the prospect of a more stable framework for suppliers and consumers of cannabis products. He said, “The chances for us as a German company are the highest they’ve been in a decade.”