German officials are planning to proceed with a scaled-back version of cannabis legalization, having abandoned—at least for now—a more sweeping proposal that would have ushered in legal cannabis sales across the country.
The country’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, had pledged to unveil new cannabis legislation by the end of the first quarter of the year. And although he was scheduled to give a press conference on Friday to discuss the measure, the event was canceled due to illness and scheduling conflicts. Nevertheless, details of the forthcoming reformulated plan are being reported by German media.
“We are on the right track. We have revised the proposals a bit,” Lauterbach said in brief comments on Friday, according to a translation. He said he would be returning to the European Union (EU) “soon” with a “good proposal” that protects general health as well as the safety of young people.
The new plan is a two-part model—first reported by Zeit—which appears to be an attempt by German officials to legalize cannabis as broadly as possible without running afoul of EU rules.
First, the policy change would reportedly allow limited marijuana sales in certain areas—akin to a regional pilot program—for a period of four years. That would allow officials to see the impact of reform both in big cities and more rural locations. If the program is deemed a success, it could be extended to other parts of the country.
While that portion of the proposal will be submitted to the EU Commission for review, Lauterbach’s plan would also allow Germans to grow their own cannabis for personal use. That change would reportedly not need the EU’s green light.
Details of the homegrow rule have yet to be finalized, but reports say that consumers could be allowed to possess 20 to 30 cannabis under the proposal. What’s more, non-commercial growers could then organize and distribute marijuana among themselves through so-called cannabis clubs. Such clubs already exist in the Netherlands and Spain, and Malta is also planning to allow them.
Officials from Germany, Malta, the Netherlands and Luxembourg held a joint meeting last year to discuss cannabis legalization.
Advocates for legalization in Germany said on Friday that they were eager to learn more about Lauterbach’s proposal.
“Finally!” Kristine Lütke, a German member of parliament and spokesperson on addiction and drug policy for the Free Democratic Party, wrote on Twitter. “I’m really looking forward to the exact details!”
Endlich! 🙏 Gesundheitsminister @Karl_Lauterbach kündigt heute überarbeitete Vorschläge zur #Legalisierung von #Cannabis an – auf die genauen Details bin ich schon sehr gespannt! 👀 https://t.co/SAj6bTgYkb
— Kristine Lütke MdB (@kristine_lutke) March 31, 2023
Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved an 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.
Under that initial framework, adults 18 and older would have been able to possess 20 to 30 grams of marijuana, which they could purchase from federally licensed stores and possibly pharmacies. People could also grow up to three plants for personal use, with rules on enclosing them to prevent youth access.
Marijuana would be subject to the country’s sales tax, and the plan calls for an additional “special consumption tax.” And all ongoing criminal proceedings related to offenses made legal under the reform would be suspended and closed upon implementation.
Lauterbach, the health minister, said earlier this month that German officials had received “very good feedback” from the EU and would be making revisions to the plan before formally introducing a bill in the legislature.
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.
Just a day before details of the revised plan emerged, the country’s Social Democratic Party, which is part of the traffic light coalition, expressed doubt about the plan, saying it believed that “comprehensive legislation is obviously not feasible in the short term for reasons of European Law.”
— Carmen Wegge (@CarmenWegge) March 31, 2023
Some lawmakers said they expect to see the details of the revised proposal by the end of April.
Earlier this month, Lauterbach suggested that officials with the EU Commission have indicated in discussions that the country could take the step. The health minister emphasized that the coalition government will seek to comply with EU rules while also working to reduce crime and make cannabis use as safe as possible.
Meanwhile, a separate marijuana legalization bill from progressive German lawmakers received a public hearing in the Bundestag Health Committee earlier this month. The sponsors said the legislation is necessary to expedite the end of prohibition. While no vote was held, the expectation is that the body will reject the alternative proposal in the interest of waiting to see how the government’s new proposal fares.
The United Nations (UN) has made clear that member nations cannot go further than medical cannabis or simple decriminalization under a 1961 treaty to which countries like Germany and the U.S. are a party.
UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) recently released an annual report that took the position further by suggesting that the U.S. federal government is violating the treaty by declining to enforce prohibition at the state-level, saying that the federalist system prescribed under the Constitution does not excuse the country from its treaty obligations.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, visited California and toured 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 April found majority support for legalization in several key European countries, including Germany.