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German Health Minister Speeds Up Cannabis Reform

Germany Parliament

Karl Lauterbach makes public statement about prioritizing recreational cannabis reform in Germany this summer

In a surprise announcement, the German Health Minister, SPD-affiliated Karl Lauterbach, has now thrown his weight behind a stepped-up schedule for cannabis legalization. Namely, he wants to put this on the summer legislative agenda rather than pushing it back to this fall (or later) as had been widely rumored.

As quoted in Handesblatt, Lauterbach said that he has “changed his mind about this in the past two years…I’ve always been an opponent of cannabis legalization, but I revised my opinion about a year ago.” He now believes that the dangers of the status quo outweigh the dangers of recreational reform.

Lauterbach’s statements about cannabis reform were part of his call for stepped-up action on several pressing issues facing the German healthcare system. Namely the need for a greater contribution from German citizens to address the huge shortfall the statutory health insurers are facing as well as the digitalization of the healthcare infrastructure.

His comments also come at a time when there is growing momentum from all coalition parties to not kick the cannabis legalization discussion can down the road anymore. During the first quarter of 2022, despite making cannabis legalization part of the election platform that put the Traffic Light coalition into power, the only thing emanating out of Berlin for months was calls for delay. The excuse was both the lingering Pandemic and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even more interesting is that Lauterbach’s comments come at a time when all three coalition partners have begun to publicly support the idea of home-grow as part of the initial reform law. This too had been widely rumored to have been dropped from discussion.

Drivers of Reform

There are several reasons that are likely behind this interesting about-face by leading figures in the new government to suddenly prioritize cannabis reform this year.

The first is undoubtedly the fact that the medical efficacy of cannabis cannot be denied anymore – meaning that the beleaguered health insurance companies will be increasingly under the gun to reform their policies about coverage – and pay for coverage of more people. That has been one of the most problematic aspects of the limited medical reform compromise made into law in 2017. Insurers have routinely turned down about 40% of applicants – forcing those who can to sue for individual compensation and those who can’t into the black market, increasing the risk of prosecution for merely being chronically ill.

The second is that with full recreational reform, patients who have been turned down for coverage – or cannot find a doctor in the first place will, at least no longer be criminalized by taking matters into their own hands.

Further, if patients are finally allowed to grow their own, additional pressure will be taken off a healthcare system that has been horrifically slow in the acceptance of medical cannabis in the first place.

As a result, it may be, after months of delay and diffusion, that there is finally a push for cannabis reform that may even take place this summer – at least on a legislative level. That is good news indeed.