Germany was poised to become the wealthiest, most populous country in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult use when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration kicked off a public consultation on cannabis legalization last year.
But some of those ambitions were deferred on Wednesday, when Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Cem Özdemir held a news conference in Berlin to detail a phased approach to the roll out of legal adult use across the country.
The German government has committed to two phases. The first phase allows for personal cultivation of cannabis and purchases from non-profit clubs. The second phase will test out regulated supply chains and sales in shops in select regions. While legislation for phase one is expected sometime in April, with the goal of enactment by 2024, there are far fewer details on the timeline for phase two.
The ministers shared a more robust framework with the European Commission in October, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time. That version envisioned legalized and regulated sales across the country; it was subsequently cut back according to feedback.
Their core concern is compliance with international drug treaties, which do not allow for non-medical legalization. Nonetheless, countries like Canada and Uruguay have implemented adult use programs for years with no consequence.
So, what’s in the plan?
All adults age 18 or older will be allowed to grow three flowering plants at home, and to possess 25 grams of cannabis.
The non-profit clubs are limited to 500 members who will contribute to the cultivation of cannabis and also be able to purchase the cannabis that is grown there. The purchase limits are: 25 grams a day, 50 grams a month (30 grams for adults under the age of 21), and 7 seeds or 5 cuttings a month. Only flowers and extracts will be allowed, not edibles, and a cap will be set on THC content.
No on-site consumption will be allowed. People can only be a member of one club at a time, and must be a resident of Germany to be a member. The number of these clubs will be determined by the population of an area.
The details on the second phase are a bit hazier, beyond the fact that it will be a five-year pilot of a “commercial supply chain” in select regions. This phase will not be included in the bill released this month, and will instead have its own legislation after lawmakers return from summer break. Unlike the bill for phase one, the bill for shops will be submitted for review to the European Commission.
Pilot projects across Europe
The pilot program approach to cannabis reform has become the norm across Europe.
In late 2020, for example, Switzerland’s parliament passed legislation to allow for an adult use pilot program. That program is currently underway with 5,000 participants.
The Netherlands is set to launch its own pilot program, albeit under different circumstances. Cannabis cafes have been tolerated for decades in the country, but these cafes and their supply have been wholly unregulated. Under the pilot, ten municipalities will regulate growers that will cultivate cannabis to sell into coffee shops. While this plan was first announced in 2019, as Cannabis Wire reported, the first phase of it is set to go live by the end of this year.
Non-profit clubs are also becoming a common approach in Europe. Malta legalized cannabis for adults in 2021, as Cannabis Wire reported, but only with access through home cultivation or club membership, not commercial sales.
And while cannabis is not legal in Spain, these clubs have taken off across the country and are generally tolerated.
Germany’s road to this moment
Before Scholz took office in December 2021, the three-party coalition behind him agreed to pursue legalization under his term. Then in June 2022, the government’s drugs commissioner, Burkhard Blienert, announced a consultation process that would invite hundreds of experts and stakeholders that would help to inform and shape the government’s plan.
“I have been working for years to ensure that we in Germany finally stop criminalizing cannabis users and start a modern and health-oriented cannabis policy,” he said in a statement at the time.
By July, as Cannabis Wire reported, that process wrapped up. Bliener said on the final day of the consultation that the process produced “exactly the valuable input” that he had hoped for.
In October, as Cannabis Wire reported, Lauterbach released a 12-page “key issues” paper that largely maps against what was released this week under the first phase, which suggests that much of the pushback from the European Commission focused on the proposed storefronts.