Germany’s Legalization Strategy Is The Right Approach
Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is widely expected to formally introduce his long-awaited cannabis legalization measure this month. As German lawmaker Carmen Wegge (SPD) stated last week, “It would be nice if the draft law would be presented on 20.4.2023.” Whether April 20th proves to be the actual date or not is something that will have to be seen as the month progresses along, however, the measure’s introduction seems to be imminent at this point.
The global conversation regarding adult-use cannabis legalization in Germany has transitioned from the question of ‘if,’ past the question of ‘when,’ and now on to the question of ‘what?’ According to prior reporting, Germany is expected to pursue a two-faceted approach to legalization policy and commerce. The two-faceted approach is reportedly a result of ongoing negotiations between the European Union and Germany’s Health Minister.
The first phase of legalization that is reportedly going to be pursued involves legalizing home cultivation, ‘noncommercial’ cannabis clubs, and the suspension of cannabis prohibition enforcement as it relates to consumers. Several lawmakers in Germany have advocated for not holding up reform as it pertains to personal liberties while trying to work out the details of what will be involved with regulated national sales, with the latter being a much heavier lift compared to the former.
“The first part of the reform measure could come into force before the summer break of the Bundestag, as Wegge and Heidenblut are speculating. This would be an urgently needed relief for millions of consumers. What this 2-phase approach means for the commercial route and the numerous companies preparing for a free market model, remains to be seen,” Kai Friedrich Niermann of law firm KFN+ said, per our prior reporting.
Adult households would be able to cultivate between 3-5 plants in Germany according to what is reportedly being considered, and adults would be able to possess up to 50 grams. Cannabis prohibition enforcement involving individual cultivation, possession, and/or use (not including DUI laws) would be suspended under the reported plan. According to a 2021 report from Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf, Germany would save 1.05 billion euros annually by no longer enforcing cannabis prohibition, in addition to judiciary savings of 313 million euros per year.
“For reasons of European law, comprehensive legalization is obviously not feasible in the short term. We are therefore supporting Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and the Federal Government with practicable steps toward legalization. From our point of view, these can be model projects, decriminalization and self-cultivation.” SPD leadership previously stated according to initial reporting by Legal Tribune Online (translated from German to English).
The European Union has not granted its permission for legal national sales to Germany, or any other member nation so far. The only country to pass a national legalization measure in Europe as of this article’s posting is Malta, and Malta’s legalization model does not involve regulated national sales. Rather, Malta’s legalization model is built on home cultivation and noncommercial cannabis clubs, which is also likely to be the case in Germany.
However, whereas Malta does not seem to have plans for a localized cannabis commerce pilot model, Germany does. How many jurisdictions will be involved, how many consumers will be able to participate, and what products they will be able to purchase are all questions that are yet to be answered, although, some form of pilot programs do appear to be on the way in Germany. If enough jurisdictions are allowed to proceed, a potentially significant number of consumers could be able to make regular, legal purchases. That in itself presents tremendous entrepreneurial and investor opportunities, particularly in the personal consumption accessories and home cultivation sectors of the emerging cannabis industry.
People often try to compare Germany to Canada and Uruguay, and to a lesser extent, the United States, however, comparing legalization models and efforts in those countries to Germany is like comparing apples and oranges due to various political factors, not the least of which is that Germany is part of the European Union and Canada, Uruguay, and the United States are not. The position in which Germany operates in the global political landscape is not the same as other nations.
When all is said and done, Germany will get its legalization cake and eat it too. In the short term, consumers will get the justice and freedom that never should have been taken away from them in the first place. Adult consumers will be able to cultivate cannabis, gift it to other adults, and eventually frequent noncommercial cannabis clubs and/or outlets that are part of a local pilot program, all without worrying about losing their freedom or having their life impacted by the criminal justice system in some way. The significance of that cannot be overstated, especially considering that the cost savings by no longer enforcing failed prohibition will be considerable, and that will benefit all citizens of Germany.
Meanwhile, the battle to legalize national sales and get the European Union on the right side of history will continue, which serves as the second facet of the reported German legalization push. Whether people realize it or not, the first facet of the legalization push is going to bolster the chances of the second phase succeeding. When Germany implements the first phase of legalization, which is a much easier lift compared to regulated national sales and will presumably take effect quickly, it will encourage other countries to do the same. Leadership in the Czech Republic has already indicated that it will pursue legalization alongside Germany, and it’s virtually guaranteed that success in both countries will encourage other European nations to pursue similar reform.
Also, noncommercial clubs and localized pilot programs will be afforded the opportunity to create data and other useful information for social and hard science research. Assuming that those forms of legalized commerce succeed, it will yield more successful examples for lawmakers like Karl Lauterbach to point to when making their arguments to the European Union. Germany is clearly building and leading a coalition of European nations that want to pursue a regulated cannabis system versus sticking with the unregulated (and failed) prohibition status quo, and the fact that Germany appears to not be letting the second facet of legalization hold up the first one is the right move in my opinion. No one should be subjected to the criminal justice system due to being an individual cannabis consumer, and that includes no one being subjected to a fine which can also have a negative impact on an individual long after the fine is paid. Germany is set to free the plant, and in the process free the people, and that is an amazing thing by every measure.