Landmark German Cannabis Legalisation: A Window into the Future of European Drug Policy?

by Oliver Callaghan

German officials voted in favour of the long awaited cannabis legalisation reform on the 23rd of February, passing by a margin of 407 votes to 226 despite a wave of contentious debates in the Bundestag. 

This decision will come into effect on the 1st of April, with licensed not-for-profit cannabis clubs permitted to cultivate and distribute cannabis around three months after this.

The bill legalises the possession of up to 50 grams of cannabis at home, and 25 grams in public. Germans will also be able to cultivate up to three plants at home once this bill comes into effect. 

This bill also reclassifies cannabis, removing the drug from the Narcotics Act and providing the status of a prescription drug instead. This means medical cannabis patients will no longer be required to present a chronic disease to be eligible for access, which could produce a boom in the medical cannabis market.

While the coalition government backed this bill, Christian Democratic Party official Tino Sorge argued that this bill would increase the consumption of cannabis amongst young people in Germany, leading to “worsening substance abuse”. 

However, the health minister Karl Lauterbach pointed to statistics which suggested that cannabis use is already increasing in Germany, and that this bill aims to reduce the foothold of the black market along with improving the protections concerning young people.

Furthermore, supporters of this bill have argued that the potency of cannabis has been worsened by ineffective prohibitionism, and that legalisation is the most effective solution to the potency issue. 

One key aspect of this bill which many drug policy advocates expected was the integration of a regulated market resembling the current American model. Yet German officials indicated that this bill will currently only allow cannabis to be distributed through either cannabis clubs or personal cultivation.

This makes the bill similar to the Czech legalisation draft which we covered last month. Critics of this decision argue that without the integration of a legal market, there is the possibility that the supply chain will not have the capacity to satisfy the demand through home cultivation and cannabis clubs alone. 

Cannabis clubs will be permitted a maximum capacity of 500 German residents only, which could also increase the influence of the black market if the cannabis tourism seen in Thailand or the Netherlands emerges in Germany.

The coalition government has expressed their intention to monitor the climate over the next few years, and could ultimately permit the licensed sale of cannabis under the right circumstances. 

On the other hand, conservative opposition have indicated that they will reverse this decision if they succeed in the next general election. 

This makes Germany the third European country to legalise cannabis after Malta and Luxembourg. It is likely that European policymakers will be keeping a close eye on the impact of this decision as it develops.

What does this mean for the future of European drug reform?

The success of this vote marks a significant step forward for drug policy reform in Europe, with advocates optimistic that this decision could encourage other European countries to adopt a similar legal framework in the future.

While there are valid concerns in the execution of this legalisation framework such as the question of how much influence the black market will possess, this is a step in the right direction. It is unfortunate to see an ambiguous timeline regarding the regulated market rollout, however this framework appears to be a sensible compromise for now based on the rampant opposition this bill has faced. 

We are still in the early steps of widespread reform regarding cannabis in Europe, therefore it is important for policymakers to demonstrate that cannabis use can be normalised using a considered and stable approach.

While Germany may not experience the same economic boom that cannabis brought to the US, we have seen Malta’s cannabis industry steadily grow since its legalisation reform.  While Malta also does not have a regulated market, Statista expects Malta’s cannabis industry to be worth $1.4 billion by 2028, demonstrating that economic viability is something that can be delivered later down the line once consensus has been achieved. 

For now, I am optimistic about the future of European drug policy, and expect more countries to follow this trend if cannabis legalisation can provide a safe, economical and viable solution to the drug policy debate.

This piece was written by Oliver Callaghan. X @Oliver1331556

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