Germany Advances Towards Cannabis Decriminalisation

Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, is set to reform its cannabis regulations. The country's cabinet has recently greenlit a draft law that, if passed by parliament, could lead to the decriminalisation of cannabis possession in limited quantities.

A Significant Move Towards Liberalisation

The legislation is presented as the initial phase in a two-step plan. Despite it being somewhat short of its initial objectives, the government's approval signifies a considerable step forward for a key reform project of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's liberal coalition.

The proposed law, expected to come into effect by the end of this year, would legalise the possession of up to 25 grams (almost 1 ounce) of cannabis for recreational use. It also permits individuals to cultivate a maximum of three plants for personal consumption.

Non-profit "Cannabis Clubs"

The legislation proposes the establishment of non-profit "cannabis clubs" with a maximum membership limit of 500. German residents aged 18 and above would be eligible to join these clubs, which would be permitted to cultivate cannabis for members' personal use.

The bill restricts individual purchases to 25 grams per day, or a maximum of 50 grams per month. However, for those under 21, this limit is reduced to 30 grams per month. The legislation also prohibits membership in multiple clubs. The costs of running the clubs are expected to be covered by membership fees, which would be tiered according to the amount of cannabis members consume.

Restrictions and Consumer Protection

The government's proposal includes a ban on advertising or sponsoring cannabis, with clubs and consumption prohibited within 200 metres of schools, playgrounds and sports facilities, or near club premises.

By implementing these measures, officials aim to safeguard consumers against contaminated products and diminish drug-related crime. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach anticipates very competitive pricing under the new system, which he believes will effectively combat the black market.

Opposition and Support

Critics of the proposed law include the centre-right opposition and an organisation representing German judges. They argue that the legislation could potentially increase the burden on the judicial system and spur demand for black-market cannabis.

Still, many advocates for legalisation are unhappy, criticising the proposed law for its excessive regulation, continued stigmatisation of cannabis users, and unrealistic restrictions on cannabis clubs.

Despite the criticisms, Health Minister Lauterbach stands firm, arguing that being attacked from both sides is a positive sign. He states that those opposing any form of legalisation lack an answer to the escalating consumption, crime, and the thriving black market.

Future Plans

Should the legislation become law, the government plans to roll out a campaign aimed at educating young people about the risks associated with cannabis consumption.

Furthermore, the government intends to follow up the new legislation with a second phase. This phase will involve five-year trials of regulated commercial supply chains in select regions, which will then be scientifically evaluated.

However, this falls significantly short of the government's original plan last year. The initial plan proposed allowing the sale of cannabis to adults across the country at licensed outlets. However, this was scaled back following discussions with the EU's executive commission.

International Perspectives

The approach towards cannabis regulation varies considerably across Europe. In the Netherlands, the decriminalisation of cannabis is combined with minimal market regulation. Authorities tolerate the sale and consumption of small quantities of cannabis in so-called coffeeshops. However, the production and sale of large quantities, necessary to supply the coffeeshops, remains illegal.

On the other hand, Switzerland's authorities cleared the way last year for a pilot project allowing a limited number of people in Basel to purchase cannabis from pharmacies for recreational use.

The direction that Germany is taking towards the liberalisation of cannabis laws signals a significant shift in the European Union's largest nation's stance on the issue. As the world watches, the outcome of this legislative change could set a precedent for other nations grappling with similar debates over cannabis regulation.