Germany’s Federal Cabinet has officially approved a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide. But officials say that its fate ultimately rests in whether international and European policy allows the country to move ahead.
Details about the reform framework have been surfacing in media reports over the past couple weeks as the Health Ministry has worked to finalize the plan before submitting it to the full Cabinet on October 26.
Now it has the government’s sign-off, moving it closer to being considered by lawmakers—but not before it is sent to the European Commission for a review. In that respect, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the proposal wasn’t exactly a “major breakthrough in drug policy” yet.
“If this preliminary examination clearly showed that this path would not be viable for the European Commission, then we would not develop a bill on this basis either,” he said at an October 26 press conference. The German government will separately issue a declaration about whether the framework aligns with broader international treaty obligations.
“We want to decriminalize the use of cannabis in order to achieve better protection for children and young people, but also better health protection,” Lauterbach said.
If things go according to plan on the international and domestic levels, it could be possible for legalization to take effect some time in 2024.
The basics of the proposal—which as of now is in the form of a 12-page framework, and not actual legislation—are that adults 18 and older could buy and possess 20-30 grams of marijuana at federally licensed stores and possibly pharmacies. They could also grow up to three plants for personal use, with rules on enclosing them to prevent youth access.
An earlier, leaked version called for a THC cap on all cannabis products, but that was revised following pushback from advocates and lawmakers. Now the government says it will only consider a THC limit for products sold to people aged 18-20.
Under the framework, all ongoing criminal proceedings related to charges that would not apply under the reform would be suspended and closed upon implementation.
Sales couldn’t take place a store where tobacco or alcohol is also sold. There would also be a ban on cannabis advertising.
Marijuana would be subject to the country’s sales tax, and the plan calls for an additional “special consumption tax.” However, it doesn’t specify a number, instead arguing that it should be set at a rate that’s competitive with the illicit market.
Lauterbach said the draft law would be filed at earliest in the first quarter of 2023, but that he doesn’t expect it could be approved swiftly. If things go according to plan on the international and domestic levels, it could be possible for legalization to take effect some time in 2024.
This agreed-upon framework is the product of months of review and negotiations within the administration and the “traffic light” coalition government. German officials took a first step toward legalization in June, kicking off a series of hearings meant to help inform legislation to end prohibition in the country.
But the health minister’s October 26 comments have tempered optimism about the prospects of legalizing marijuana in Germany, given the stated deference to international and European bodies.
This will represent a key test within the EU.
The European Commission in 2020 did recommend that member nations vote as a block in favor of a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to remove marijuana from the strictest drug category under an international treaty. But it’s still not clear how it would come down on Germany’s legalization plan. Canada and Uruguay have alreaady flouted United Nations policy by enacting legalization, but this will represent a key test within the EU. For what it’s worth, Malta is an EU member nation that legalized cannabis late last year.
Some German lawmakers are not content with the Cabinet framework even after it was slightly revised to loosen restrictions.
For example, Kirsten Yet Kappert-Gonther, the Green party’s vice chair of Parliament’s health committee, told Politico EU that she continues to believe that the proposed regulations are too strict to effectively mitigate the illicit market. However, she said the conversation is “progressing,” according to a translation.
“The key points are coming! No THC upper limit for over 21s, up to 30g purchase and possession of #Cannabis , 3 plants self-cultivated,” she said. “Good this way! Next step bill.”
Kristine Lütke of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), said the plan “falls short of providing effective and good youth, health, and consumer protection, while at the same time reining in the black market.”
Conservative lawmakers have meanwhile consistently opposed the legalization proposal. The Christian Social Union’s Stephan Pilsinger said he expects that the European Commission will decline to authorize the reform.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, recently visited California and toured cannabis businesses to inform their country’s approach to legalization.
The visit came about two months after top officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands held a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss plans and challenges associated with adult-use marijuana legalization.
Leaders of Germany’s coalition government said last year that they had reached an agreement to end cannabis prohibition and enact regulations for a legal industry, and they previewed certain details of that plan earlier this year.
A novel international survey released in April found majority support for legalization in several key European countries, including Germany.
Photograph by Ingo Joseph via Pexels