5 things to know about Germany's push to legalize cannabis – POLITICO

5 things to know about Germany’s push to legalize cannabis – POLITICO

Let the cannabis lobbying begin.

The German health ministry is hosting talks this week with stakeholders on the legalization of recreational cannabis, with the aim of presenting a strategy to do so in the fall.

While Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats only wanted to decriminalize cannabis — which would allow only possession — his coalition partners, the Greens and the Liberals, campaigned during the 2021 election to fully legalize recreational cannabis, which would allow its possession, cultivation, trade and transport .

Ultimately, the junior partners prevailed, leading to the creation of a coalition agreement in favor of recreational legalization.

Now they have to deliver on it. While Germany legalized medical cannabis in 2016, many questions still need to be answered before the first joint can be sold legally to recreational users.

Burkhard Blienert, the German commissioner for narcotic drugs, will hold a series of five talks with over 200 stakeholders, including addiction physicians, cannabis associations and international experts. The results will be presented at the end of the month, laying the groundwork for the legalization strategy expected in the fall.

As Germany is getting ready to roll, here’s what you need to know.

Who will be allowed to sell it?

Currently, only pharmacies can sell medical cannabis in Germany — and according to the them, that shouldn’t change for recreational cannabis.

“If cannabis is to be sold in pharmacies for consumption purposes, then it should only be sold in pharmacies,” argued the Federal Association of German Pharmacists in a written statement. “With different distribution channels, it will be difficult to enforce uniform, high consumer-protection standards.”

Not everyone agrees. “Pharmacies are there to sell medicines. Otherwise, they would therefore have to include beer and cigarettes in their assortment too,” Georg Wurth of the German Hemp Association said.

According to the coalition agreement, cannabis should be distributed in “licensed shops.” But what qualifies as a licensed shop has not yet been defined. Big players will certainly push to enter the retail market, which will grow from 20 tons of medical cannabis to 400 tons of medical and recreational cannabis per year, according to a study.

At the moment, only less potent products like CBD oils can be sold outside of pharmacies.

Who will be able to buy it?

The coalition agreement makes it quite clear that cannabis is not for kids or teenagers. “Only adults should have access to cannabis stores,” said Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, vice chair of the health committee in parliament. “Minimum distances from schools and youth centers should be maintained” to protect minors, she added.

The Federal Association of German Pharmacists goes a step further and demands “appropriate regulations … to limit consumption by adolescents and young adults.”

The German Medical Association agrees: “Medically, an age restriction of at least 21 years (preferably older; +25 years of age) makes sense,” it said in a written statement.

How will it be regulated?

To ensure that the marijuana sold in Germany is safe, not only do there need to be trusted vendors and suppliers, the strains also need to be regulated. Cannabis contains over 400 substances, the two most commonly known ones are THC and CBD. Specifically, THC is responsible for the intoxicating effect of cannabis and can vary greatly between strains.

“As far as the data can show, high THC levels (above 20 percent) are associated with significantly increased health risks, eg, psychotic reactions, than cannabis with low THC concentrations,” the German Medical Association said. Therefore, they recommend a THC limit of 10 percent to 15 percent.

When it comes to supply, “the Dutch model is not a model for Germany,” Blienert said in February. The Dutch allowed the sale of cannabis in coffee shops back in 1976, but did not enable legal and controlled procurement. Blienert doesn’t want that for Germany. “We have to keep an eye on the entire supply chain … from cultivation to trade to sale,” he said.

Where will it come from?

Currently, Germany allows the cultivation of cannabis only under very strict conditions. The plant needs to be grown in bunker-like buildings under high-security guidelines.

However, “it is neither sensible nor sustainable to grow hemp and cannabis exclusively in indoor plantations behind thick concrete walls,” Kappert-Gonther said. So, once cannabis is legalized, these rules could be relaxed to create better growing conditions in Germany to cover demand.

Certain German states allow cannabis imports as long as they satisfy certain criteria. And if that cannabis is refined in Germany, it can already be sold as medical cannabis today.

The Hemp Association is also demanding that growing marijuana at home be legalized: “It makes no sense to prosecute consumers because of a few cannabis plants, while in the store next door every day kilos of weed pass over the counter,” Wurth said.

Are there any legal roadblocks?

By legalizing recreational cannabis, Germany risks breaching international law.

The 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prohibits Germany from legalizing recreational cannabis, as it bans states from cultivating and trafficking cannabis outside of medical or scientific purposes. To avoid breaching the law, Berlin would first have to withdraw from the convention, which could take up to a year.

Alternatively, Germany could choose to ignore the convention, like Canada, which has not been sanctioned for its cannabis policy to date, despite repeated rebukes from the International Narcotics Control Board.

The EU could throw up roadblocks, too. A ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU explicitly says that member states should prevent the sale of cannabis. This could create a particular problem for Germany, which wants state-licensed shops and supply chains, unlike the Netherlands, which decriminalized recreational cannabis but has not fully legalized it.

Certain German politicians could also throw a spanner in the works. While a law to legalize recreational cannabis might have an easier time getting the approval of the Bundestag, where the pro-legalization parties hold a majority, it could have a tougher time getting through the Bundesrat, which represents German states at the federal level.

The center-right Christian Democrats hold a blocking majority there. Their leader, Friedrich Merz, said in December that “hashish is the drug gateway to hard drug addiction.”

If Blienert and the coalition cannot reach a compromise with the CDU, it could turn out to be a real show-stopper.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

The one-stop-shop solution for policy professionals fusing the depth of POLITICO journalism with the power of technology


Exclusive, breaking scoops and insights


Customized policy intelligence platform


A high-level public affairs network

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.