Key aspects of the German government’s plans to create a legalised recreational cannabis market, following in the footsteps of countries such as Canada, Malta and Mexico have been leaked.
These are both unofficial announcements and early-stage proposals and so should be treated with caution, but they do give us some insight into the likely direction of the final plans, as well as the influences and priorities coming from within the Government.
Key details that have leaked include:
- A maximum threshold for possession of 20g.
- An allowance for home-growing of up to 2 plants.
- A mixture of outlets to purchase from, including retail from licensed stores, pharmacies & online options.
- A maximum 15% THC limit, with a lesser limit of 10% for those aged 18-21yrs.
- A total advertising ban.
- Introduction of cigarette style non-branded packaging.
- A graduated tax based on the THC level.
- No imports of cannabis allowed – must all be grown in Germany
- Under 18s caught in possession of cannabis will not be criminalised (cannabis will be confiscated and courses mandated)
- Location of cannabis dispensaries to be regulated, with minimum distances to schools, children’s and youth facilities.
These proposals, laid out by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, are currently being worked on between a number of ministries in the Federal Government. The proposals have stirred discussion amongst campaigners, advocacy groups and industry. Last month, German finance minister, Christian Lindner, had suggested that cannabis could be legalised as early as next year, butDrug Commissioner Burkhard Blienert has said that it is unlikely that the law would come into force before 2024 at the earliest. The government are due to present a draft law to the German Parliament in the coming months.
Alastair Moore, co-Founder of Hanway Associates has commented “Some positives in this new leak to the German press, but until we see the final paper it is hard to know what will stick. Somewhere in Berlin political strategists are likely to be carefully watching the reaction to the reported direction of legislation.”
The German government have made clear that their model of regulation will be public health-oriented, and many of the measures listed above – such as advertising bans, plain packaging and lower THC limits for young people – reflect this. Given that we are still in the very early stages of the process, there are very few details on how regulations will be enforced and the sanctions for breaching them.
We also have no detail on whether some of the rules and regulations may be altered as the legal market (hopefully) overtakes the illicit market in the coming years. So called ‘sunset’ clauses in legislation – such as those seen in UK Brexit and COVID laws – could be a key in tool in ensuring that the rules and regulations adapt to changing market and societal environments. This makes discussing the merits of measures such as the maximum quantity of cannabis allowed to be possessed, number of plants allowed to be home grown, and THC % limit more difficult.
Nevertheless, a proposed 20g possession threshold is relativley low, as is a limit of only 2 plants allowed to be home grown. In Canada and Malta the growing of up to 4 plants at home is allowed, whilst in Uruguay the limit is 6. In terms of possession allowances, in the US state of Colorado you can legally possess up to 56 grams and in California it’s 28.5g. Whereas in South Africa it’s up to 600 grams, but in Malta it’s only 7g (up to 50g in a domestic setting). There is a 5g allowance in Mexico but this has only been decriminalised, not fully legalised.
Sales will be subject to both VAT and a specific cannabis tax, which will be based on the THC content. These proposals are similar to existing laws on products like alcohol, where in the UK there are different levels of tax for different strength products. Potency regulations are likely to be one of the most hotly contested points, as many people point out that the THC levels proposed are far below those found in the illegal market, and even below the levels found in current medicinal cannabis provision in Germany.
If Germany wants to eliminate the illicit market it needs to do better than 15% thc limit.
Education is key in reducing harms not banning strains which are market preference
— Paul North (@Paul__North) October 19, 2022
Potency limits are always a contentious issue.
A 15% THC limit will actually not trouble most consumers – and for those (a minority, but a vocal one) who want stronger; home grow will remain an option (but no info on whether non-profit co-ops, will be allowed).
— Steve Rolles (@SteveTransform) October 19, 2022
I’m not sure your assumption that this limit won’t trouble consumers is borne out. Would have to double check stats but ~80% of sales in licit markets are for >15% potency. It’s a bit like legalising alcohol then saying actually it’s just beer, wine and spirits are still illegal
— George McBride (@GeorgeMcBride1) October 19, 2022
Germany seem to be going with a 15% THC limit.
A lot of ‘quality’ UK Cannabis nowadays is about 18% upwards (to about 27% max). Plenty clocking in around the 15% mark but most of it over.
— Josh Torrance (@Joshitea) October 19, 2022
But there are other points of interest. As Steve Rolles has pointed out, there are a lot of details missing from these proposals, particularly concerning matters of equity and expungement. With the recent news that US President Biden is pardoning all federal cannabis possession charges, there will be pressure on the German government to enact similar measures.
Policy proposals like this are vital if social justice is to be enacted through reforms like this, undoing much of the damage done by decades of prohibition and criminalisation. Many will be disappointed to see no details of these proposals at this stage.
You can read all of his thoughts in a thread linked below.
Interesting details emerging of Germany’s proposed cannabis model.
A few thoughts
– it’s a ‘leak’ not a formal announcement (so not written in stone & may change)
– the devil’s in the detail (which we don’t have)
– what’s *not* revealed here is as important as what is….
— Steve Rolles (@SteveTransform) October 19, 2022
Some have also raised concerns about how some of the measures listed above may impact the ability of the legal market to combat the illegal market, and take market share away from illegal producers. Cannabis legalisation in countries and territories around the world thus far has had mixed success, often because of poorly designed or overly restrictive regulations that have made producing unviable, meaning that many still get their product from the illegal market, even in places where legal means exist.
Even a decade on from implementing their reforms, in Uruguay – the first regulated adult-use market – illicit and home-grown cannabis totals over three-quarters of the market. Likewise, in Canada over half still comes from the black market. In California it’s estimated to be 55%. The major factors in ensuring the effective defeating of the illicit market are price, potency and accessibility.
The allowance for online sales is another key point outlined in the proposals, given the need for ease of access to legal cannabis products if the displacement of illegal producing and purchasing is to be successful.
Reacting to the news, Lily Temperton, Head of Analysis at Hanway Associates and First Wednesdays said:
“While health concerns about high potency products should be heard, capping legal products below the strength that most consumers are accustomed to will alienate heavy cannabis consumers in particular, who represent the vast majority of sales as per the Pareto principle. If harm reduction is the rationale behind this decision, why restrict possibilities to innovate in non-combustion formats like extracts, vape carts and edibles?
What is even more frustrating is that there are extensive case studies for German regulators to base their recommendations on. In the words of the State of Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board, ’high THC cannabis makes up the majority of products sold in medical cannabis and illicit marketplaces. Lowering the THC cap to 15% [from 30%] would merely perpetuate the unregulated market and force consumers to purchase untested, potentially contaminated products.”
“Reflective of inherent risk aversion and a product of – ongoing – negotiations and compromise that is synonymous with the German political discourse, the much awaited first draft of the historic cannabis legalisation law has now entered the public sphere.The clear commitment for radical change, solid support for specialist outlets and dispensaries rather than ringfencing sales around pharmacies and implied openness towards consumption lounges are all fundamental for building a sustainable industry while paving the way for normalisation.
On the other hand, a surprising fetishization of THC content and introduction of a 15% cap alongside the suggestions for plain packaging and blanket advertising bans can prove detrimental to brand equity and end up becoming a boon to the black market. Bearing in mind that this is still a draft rather than the finalised law – the historic importance of taking that first step cannot be understated. The prohibitionary wall is finally crashing down, now its time for the hard part of building an industry from the foundation, up.”
Eliminating the illicit market, controlling and reducing youth usage to the the lowest possible levels, and undoing the damage done by decades of prohibition and criminalisation must be the central policy goals of any legal, regulated market. Whilst we await further details on the German model, this initial tranche of details has been met with mixed responses. Overall, it seems a good start on ensuring that unfettered capitalism won’t be allowed to take hold in any German cannabis market, but questions remain on how well this model will compete with the leviathan that is the illegal drug trade – the freest, most responsive and adaptable market in the world.
This piece was written by Jay Jackson, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at Volteface. Tweets @wordsbyjayj