German Coalition Government In Waiting Sends Positive Signal On Recreational Cannabis Reform

Berlin Germany

The news that the so-called “traffic light” coalition had decided to work together on some kind of recreational cannabis reform is a positive step – but there are many details along the way to be done and dusted.

Last week, the news that the pending coalition government in waiting had come to an agreement on changing German cannabis policy spread, virally, within hours, first from German-language sites to English ones – and from cannabis specialty blogs to mainstream news.

The announcement, no matter how many details remain to be ironed out, is in fact, big news. It signals that the coalition government of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP will prioritize legislation as early as next year to start to tackle the entire recreational cannabis conversation. While the police have recently come out against recreational reform, just on a safety front, the green tide has turned here, and everyone knows it. Further it is a relatively easy lay-up win for a new government which is looking for ways to work together and gain points with an electorate that just voted the CDU out of power for the first time since the end of WWII.

That said, the devil is in the details – and this being Germany, there are a few to think about.

By far, the most important issue is how to redefine cannabis legally – and further to carve out medical versus recreational use starting with the German Narcotics Act. And that is daunting.

Here is why. Cannabis is listed as a narcotic in the Act. This is already problematic as Germany is now out of step with current EU thinking on at least CBD (namely that it is not a narcotic). However, CBD is the least of the problems here. THC is, when used medically, technically a “narcotic” – and further one that fits neatly, and pharmacologically, in the medicine cabinet of definitions that include major pain drugs, starting with opioids. “Legalizing” this as a recreational substance will take some legal eagling and wordsmithing to figure out a new kind of definition for cannabis under German (as well as EU) law. This is particularly challenging when, at an international level at least, cannabis is still defined as a Schedule I drug.

The push towards compromise is also happening at a time when the rumours are that the European Commission may yet rescind its ruling that CBD is not a narcotic.

Given the political winds, it is unlikely that the new coalition, once it formally agrees to work together and takes power in early next year, as widely expected, will backtrack on its promises. But it is also very likely that what may emerge is clear decriminalization and a deliberately small, limited and highly expensive to access market – at least at first. There is precedent. See the German bid.

But then again, see the German bid – which left German firms out of the first iteration of the same. There is hope at least that German politicians might have learned something so far – if not from other countries than the first medical tender.

It is for this very reason that no matter how messy the first iteration of recreational reform is likely to be, that it will change the conversation here and in a meaningful way – not only in Germany but across Europe. And that is significant, indeed.

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