Germany’s health minister says he remains confident that a bill to legalize marijuana will pass the national parliament next month and get implemented this spring, despite reports that support is fragmenting among lawmakers.
“I continue to assume that the cannabis law will be passed in the Bundestag in the week from February 19th to 23rd and can then apply from April 1st,” Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said, according to a translation.
He added that increased THC potency in unregulated products necessitates the reform, stating the illicit market “must therefore be dried up.”
“The controlled distribution of cannabis is the right way to achieve this, combined with special protection for children and young people,” Lauterbach said.
— Prof. Karl Lauterbach (@Karl_Lauterbach) January 18, 2024
The comments come amid rising doubts about the prospects of advancing the government’s legalization proposal, as certain legislators and state officials voice concerns about provisions such as the enforceability of zoning restrictions for cannabis businesses.
Lauterbach conceded that not every violation can be punished but said “that’s the case with every law,” adding that “we already have a considerable amount of control work to do with the black market,” Welt am Sonntag reported.
Kristine Lütke of the Free Democratic Party, which along with SPD and the Greens is part of the country’s coalition government, said in a social media post that “even though things are currently choppy, I am still confident that we will stick to the timetable for adoption.”
Die Argumente rund um das #CanG sind ausgetauscht und das Gesetz geeint. Wir läuten damit einen Umbruch im Umgang mit #Cannabis ein. Auch wenn es aktuell ruckelt, bin ich nach wie vor zuversichtlich, dass wir den Zeitplan für die Verabschiedung einhalten. 🥦 #WeeklyWeedTweet
— Kristine Lütke MdB (@kristine_lutke) January 19, 2024
While Lauterbach predicts a vote on the legalization bid will proceed next month, it hasn’t been scheduled yet. And as some state interior ministers mount opposition to the reform, certain members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who support legalization in principle have increasingly questioned the specifics of the measure that was adopted by the Federal Cabinet last August.
A final vote on the legalization bill that was initially planned for last month was ultimately called off amid concerns from SPD leaders.
Lawmakers had already delayed their first debate on the legislation, which was held in October, ostensibly due to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. They also pushed back a vote scheduled for November as supporters worked on improvements to the bill.
At a meeting last month, the health minister took questions from members, some of whom oppose legalization. At several points, he pushed back against lawmakers who suggested that legalization would send the wrong message to youth and lead to increased underage consumption, saying their arguments “misrepresented” the legislation.
Lawmakers also recently made a raft of adjustments to the bill, mostly designed to loosen restrictions that faced opposition from advocates and supporters in the Bundestag. They included increasing home possession maximums and removing the possibility of jail time for possessing slightly more than the allowable limit.
The legislators further agreed to stagger the implementation of the reform, making possession and home cultivation legal for adults beginning in April. Social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members would open in July.
Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
Officials are eventually 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.
Following the bill’s final reading in the Bundestag, it will go to the Bundesrat, a separate legislative body that represents German states. Members of the Bundesrat tried to block the proposed reform in September but ultimately failed.
Lawmakers in the Bundestag recently held a hearing in the Health Committee, at which opponents criticized some elements of the proposal. The body also heard a competing policy proposal from The Union, a political alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), that would not legalize marijuana but instead “improve health protection and strengthen education, prevention and research,” Kappert-Gonther said at the time.
The health minister responded to early criticism of the bill from medical and law enforcement groups by emphasizing that the reform would be coupled with a “major campaign” to educate the public about the risks of using cannabis.
While Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the initial framework for a legalization measure late last year, the government also said it wanted to get signoff 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 traffic light coalition government. Officials took a first step toward legalization in 2022, kicking off a series of hearings meant to help inform legislation to end prohibition in the country.
Government officials from multiple countries, including the U.S., also met in Germany last November to discuss international marijuana policy issues as the host nation works to enact legalization.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, separately visited the U.S. and toured California cannabis businesses in 2022 to inform their country’s approach to legalization.
The visit came 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.