Germany is on its way to legalizing cannabis. If leaders and lawmakers are successful in reforming their weed laws this year, it will be a significant act, as the country is the most populous in the European Union (EU) and other nations in the area might follow suit. Will pressure from other countries in the West force America to legalize?
Late last month, the German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented his cannabis legalization plan to the cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the head of the German government. Lauterbach’s proposal represents the most comprehensive cannabis regulation attempt made by a major nation in recent history.
Unlike the Netherlands, where the drug has been decriminalized but retail markets are allowed to operate in an unregulated gray area, Lauterbach said he wants to see Germany introduce a highly regulated market as part of “the most liberal legalization of cannabis in Europe.” The health minister said he hopes the plan will become the model upon which the rest of the EU bases their legalization efforts. The only EU country to legalize cannabis so far has been Malta.
The plan takes a “safety first” approach, noting health risks but addressing the greater public health risks posed by black markets and illicit products.
According to a 2021 study by the university of Düsseldorf, legalizing cannabis could bring Germany more than €4.7 billion in additional annual revenue.
Under Lauterbach’s plan, the purchase and possession of up to 20 to 30 grams of cannabis for personal recreational consumption will be legalized. Personal production would also be permitted—adults would be allowed to grow and maintain up to three cannabis plants in their own residence.
The plan would also legalize a state-regulated market in which the production, supply and distribution of cannabis would be allowed and consumers would be able to purchase the drug in dispensaries and pharmacies. Advertising for cannabis products would be banned under Lauterbach’s plan.
A competing proposal from Germany’s Drug and Addiction Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, would decriminalize the purchase and possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis and allow residents to cultivate up to two marijuana plants in their homes.
Like Lauterbach’s plan, this proposal would legalize the sale of recreational cannabis in dispensaries and pharmacies. Unlike the health minister’s plan, this one would limit THC levels to less than 15 percent by dry weight. It would also ban people between the ages of 18 and 21 from purchasing cannabis with THC levels higher than 10 percent.
Blienert’s plan would also place a ban on importing cannabis grown outside of Germany.
It appears that Lauterbach’s plan has the most support in Germany’s coalition government, but it will still need to be approved by the chancellor.
Even with Scholz’s approval, the plan will still have to cross one final hurdle before it can be made into law. The plan will still have to be approved by the European Commission.
“If the EU Commission says no to Germany’s current approach, our government should seek alternative solutions. Not just say: Well, we tried our best,” Niklas Kouparanis, chief executive of leading German cannabis firm Bloomwell Group told Reuters. He said the government needs a backup plan but shouldn’t form one that bans cannabis imports, since the country will be unable to produce enough cannabis to meet initial demands.
Not everyone in Germany appears to be keen on Lauterbach’s vision of legalization.
Germany’s pharmacists' association warned that legalizing cannabis could lead to public health problems and said pharmacists would be placed in medical conflict if they have to sell the drug to recreational users.
“A possible competitive situation with purely commercial providers is viewed particularly critically,” Thomas Preis, head of the North Rhine Pharmacists’ Association, reportedly told the Rheinische Post.
German state Bavaria’s health minister said legalization could lead to the country becoming a European drug tourism destination.
But detractors appear to be the minority. The country’s Green Party and Free Democrats—which govern in coalition with the Social Democrats—seem to be all-in on legalization. The Social Democrats have been more conservative on the issue, although their concerns seem only to amount to calls for more research on the social and health effects of cannabis. When the coalition government came into power in 2021, it promised to legalize cannabis as part of its final agreement.
There is still some work to be done before the legislation is finalized. The three coalition parties will now have to assess the plan and decide if it’s “in line with international law” before presenting it to the EU Commission. The coalition is expected to present a draft of the legislation by the end of the year at the earliest.
Germany’s Finance Minister Christian Lindner has said that cannabis legalization could happen as early as 2023. Lauterbach predicts legalization will happen by 2024. Blienert has also said he doesn’t see the law passing before 2024.
Medical cannabis has been legal for sale in German pharmacies since 2016. But legalizing adult-use pot could have major ramifications through the rest of Europe and in the West in general.
Germany is the largest economy in the EU by gross domestic product (GDP). It’s the most populated country in the EU, with a population greater than 83 million. This means that Germany is poised to become one of the largest cannabis markets in the world—overnight—should it legalize the drug.
With well-established marijuana markets in comparable nations like Germany or Canada—where cannabis has been legal since 2018—the U.S. will soon have enough market data to make better informed policy decision regarding the drug.
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