German lawmakers have officially begun consideration of a bill that would legalize marijuana nationwide. The country’s parliament, called the Bundestag, held the first debate on the legislation on Wednesday after delaying the meeting last week due to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
The legalization measure, spearheaded by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, would allow adults to legally possess cannabis and cultivate a maximum of three plants for personal use. It would also create social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members. Officials have said a forthcoming second phase of legalization will eventually launch a pilot program for regulated commercial sales of cannabis.
The country’s prohibition on cannabis has failed, Bundestag member Carmen Wegge, of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), said during the brief 45-minute debate. Illegal cannabis “is often contaminated,” she said, and profits can support organized crime. Meanwhile, youth have access to cannabis on the unregulated market.
“This is an unacceptable situation,” Wegge said. “With this bill, we are describing a new path, a courageous path, a path that stands on the side of those who consume it. We have decided against state oppression and for a progressive drug policy that educates and grants freedom.”
Gleich debattieren wir das #Cannabis-Gesetz im Bundestag! 🙌
— SPD-Fraktion im Bundestag (@spdbt) October 18, 2023
Kristine Lütke, a member of the Bundestag in the Free Democratic Party (FDP), acknowledged that the current draft bill is not final but said it includes essential provisions such as the minimum distance that grow facilities could be from public schools and other sensitive areas.
Lütke said she hoped lawmakers could further refine the bill during the legislative process.
“I know the topic is a very emotional one, but I think we can now get back to the factual level,” she said, noting that key points of the proposal were unveiled nearly a year ago “and now the draft for the cannabis law is available.”
A member of the Green Party, Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, said prohibiting marijuana makes it even more dangerous. “The ban on the black market increases the risk,” she argued, noting that illicit sellers provide no verified information about product ingredients or potency. Legalization would also better prevent access by children due to ID-check requirements, she said.
“Instead of a flourishing illegal market, we are now creating legal alternatives for adults to consume,” the Green lawmaker said.
Heute leiten wir den überfälligen Paradigmenwechsel in der Drogenpolitik ein.
Wir machen Schluss mit der gescheiterten Verbotspolitik und stellen endlich den Gesundheits- und Jugendschutz ins Zentrum!
— Grüne im Bundestag 🇪🇺🏳️🌈 (@GrueneBundestag) October 18, 2023
Opposition political parties in the Bundestag filed two motions ahead of Wednesday’s debate. One, from the Union (CDU/CSU) urges lawmakers to halt movement toward cannabis legalization, which it said leads the country “the wrong direction” and will increase cannabis use.
“The Federal Ministry of Health is working on the law to legalize cannabis and at the same time warns about the dangers of consumption,” it says, according to a translation. “Instead of the planned legalization, there is a need for increased prevention and education about the dangers that can arise from the consumption of cannabis.”
On social media Wednesday, Lauterbach, the health minister hit back at the CDU/CSU’s opposition. In response to the party’s assertion that “young people up to the age of 25 are particularly at risk because their brain development is not yet complete,” Lauterbach noted that cannabis youth by young adults “has been increasing for years” under ongoing criminal prohibition for adults.
“At the same time, toxic THC concentrations are increasing and there are more additives,” he wrote, suggesting that legal sources of cannabis would be safer for consumers than unregulated ones. “Should we complain about the problem and do nothing?” he asked.
Der Konsum „bis zu 25“ nimmt seit Jahren zu. Gleichzeitig steigen Drogenkriminalität, toxische THC Konzentrationen und es gibt mehr Beimengungen. Sollen wir auch hier, wie bei anderen Themen, das Problem beklagen und nichts tun? Wenn Cannabis, dann sicher und ohne Dealer https://t.co/9xMNHprXPg
— Prof. Karl Lauterbach (@Karl_Lauterbach) October 18, 2023
Another motion, from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party says lawmakers should instead focus on medical marijuana, which it says “enjoys a good reputation among the population.” The party argued the Bundestag should give up on adult-use legalization and instead draft a new law to fold medical marijuana into a national health care law, which would better address the “benefits and risks in an open-ended manner” and could lower costs for patients.
According to posts on social media by Wegge, the legislation will next head to the committee stage for discussion, which is likely to involve even more spirited discussion. The Health Committee, is set to consider the proposal on November 6 at which point lawmakers are expected to take testimony on the proposal from experts.
Aber Achtung: zwar diskutieren wir den Entwurf in den Ausschüssen, verhandelt wird er dort jedoch nicht! Vielmehr gibt es sog. Berichterstatter – Gespräche. Dort sitzen die Ampel Berichterstatter*innen. 4/10
— Carmen Wegge (@CarmenWegge) October 17, 2023
Then a second and third (final) reading are scheduled for November 16, according to posts last week from Lütke.
The readings are taking place following a failed effort by opponents last month to block the measure in Germany’s legislative body representing individual states, called the Bundesrat.
In a statement posted last week, the Bundestag noted that state representatives are concerned about “high financial consequences for the states due to control and enforcement as well as prevention and intervention tasks” with “control of cultivation associations is given as an example.”
But the federal government, the statement said, “does not share” the Bundesrat’s concerns. In fact, it said, “the federal government expects high savings from the federal states through fewer criminal complaints and fewer criminal proceedings. The saved funds could be used for monitoring the cultivation associations as well as for addiction prevention.”
As currently written, the legalization proposal would create social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members, with purchase limits for people over the age of 21 of 25 grams of cannabis per day—up to a total of 50 grams per month. People between 18 and 21, meanwhile, would be subject to a lower monthly limit of 30 grams.
Facilities could not be located within 200 meters of a school, and each jurisdiction could have only one club for every 6,000 residents. Clubs would be limited to 500 members and would need a a social club permit, which would be valid for up to seven years with the possibility of receiving an extension. Membership to the clubs would have to last at least two months under the draft bill.
A summary of the legislation also outlines estimates of the costs of implementing and regulating the program, as well as savings from reduced enforcement and new revenue that’s expected to be created through wage taxes from people working at cannabis clubs.
Officials are also planning to introduce a complementary second measure that would establish pilot programs for commercial sales in cities throughout the country. That legislation is expected to be unveiled after its submitted to the European Commission for review.
The measure as previously described by officials would allow cannabis sales at retailers in select jurisdictions as part of the pilot program that would allow the country to assess further reform over five years. Specifically, officials would study the impact of the shops on consumption trends and the illicit market. Localities would need to opt in to allow the stores to operate.
Several medical and law enforcement associations have voiced opposition to the legalization proposal, but Lauterbach, the health minister, has emphasized that the reform will be coupled with a “major campaign” to educate the public about the risks of using cannabis.
He first shared details about the revised legalization plan in April. The next month, he distributed the legislative text to cabinet officials.
Formal legislation detailing the government’s previously announced framework was initially set to be released by the end of the first quarter of 2023, but that timeline was extended “due to scheduling reasons” as officials worked to revise it in order to avoid a potential conflict with international laws.
Lawmakers who have pushed the government for far-reaching cannabis legalization policies reacted mostly positively to the government’s April announcement spelling out certain policy proposals, though some did point out areas they’d like to see improved.
The health minister said in March that German officials had received “very good feedback” from the EU on the prior reform framework.
Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the initial framework for a legalization measure late last year, but the government wanted to get sign-off from the EU to ensure that enacting the reform wouldn’t put them in violation of their international obligations.
The framework was the product of months of review and negotiations within the German administration and the country’s “traffic light” coalition government. Officials took a first step toward legalization last summer, kicking off a series of hearings meant to help inform legislation to end prohibition in the country.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, visited the U.S. and toured California cannabis businesses last year 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 recreational marijuana legalization.
Leaders of the coalition government said in 2021 that they had reached an agreement to end cannabis prohibition and enact regulations for a legal industry, and they first previewed certain details of that plan last year.
A novel international survey that was released last year found majority support for legalization in several key European countries, including Germany.