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Debate About Cannabis Legalization Is Still Raging In Germany Despite Government Fast-Tracking Reform

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Bayern’s Health Minister has appealed to the German Chancellor to stop cannabis legalization because it was “irresponsible” after Olaf Scholz declares that there is no point in delaying cannabis reform

Last Friday, Bavaria’s Health Minister Klaus Holetschek, a member of the CSU, called on the federal German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz (of the SPD) to stop plans to legalize cannabis. In a speech made in Munich, Holetschek based his arguments on a speech that the Chancellor had recently made in Magdeburg that the government will continue to press forward on legalization plans despite some evidence that per Scholz that “people suffer psychological damage” and “ruin their lives” by using cannabis. “If the Chancellor knows the major health risks of cannabis, he should now make use of his authority to issue directives and put the legalization project on hold,” Holetschek said.

The attack appears to be, beyond a direct attack on cannabis legalization specifically, a political attempt to build on citizen protests against Scholz that occurred in Magdeburg last week. These are being prompted by fears over inflation and rising energy prices, beyond generalized criticism of the leadership of the Traffic Light Coalition itself.

Regardless, Holetschek is also the most senior politician, so far, to criticize the idea of cannabis legalization.

What does this mean for German reform?

An Easy Political Target by Conservatives

There is much talk of a conservative backlash in Germany this fall as energy inflation begins to bite. That said, it is uncertain how successful this will be, particularly as the current government has been signalling all summer that it will continue to roll out a package of incentives and other help to minimize the economic pain felt by Germans. The widely praised (and used) $9 a month train tickets are just one of these initiatives. So is a $300 grant to taxpayers from German utilities to offset higher energy prices (which has already been distributed).

The fact that cannabis legalization has been apparently added to issues to criticize the current government over, by a centre-right politician who seems to be trying to score points against the ruling parties more generally, is, as a result, far from a surprise.

The attack also appears to indicate that those against cannabis reform have little evidence or political capital to expend to support the same.

That said, there is increased rumbling if not doubt among some on the ground here that the Traffic Light Coalition will achieve their goal of passing legalization legislation in the next 12 months. Reasons usually now focus on how the German government will be able to fit legalization into international treaties which specifically ban cannabis less than domestic opposition – starting with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics.

For that very reason, full cannabis legalization is likely to become even more of an imperative as the tripartite government coalition now consisting of authorities from Germany, Luxembourg and Malta strives to create a value that Germans can understand.

Just like help in alleviating the high cost of fuel, cannabis reform represents a tangible metric of accomplishment.

As a result, the fact that a conservative German regional political figure, in what is considered Germany’s most staid state, is trying to call the ruling government “irresponsible” (for any reason) is unlikely to gather much steam federally.

That said, it does appear that other state health departments across Germany are also in the middle of a cannabis education campaign. For example, the Frankfurt Drugs Department will be holding an online forums in early September to educate the public about the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating psychological disorders as well as discuss burning issues like the assumption of costs by insurers for cannabis treatment beyond allowing people to discuss recreational reform.

What such backlash might be a signal of, however, rather tragically, is that state officials in states like Bayern may throw a wrench in local attempts to establish dispensaries once federal reform comes, creating a patchwork of reform that varies from state to state.