Germany scales back legalization?

Germany will legalize weed, with more restrictions than expected.

by Justin Hall · April 11, 2023

Germany scales back legalization?

Recreational cannabis will soon be legal in Europe’s largest economy, but German lawmakers have opted for a cautious initial approach.

German tokers had their hopes heightened after Burkhard Blienert, Germany's commissioner on narcotic drugs, had a legal weed report leaked in October 2022. Blienert had prepared a reform plan based on an election promise for cannabis legalization from the center-left coalition that came to power in 2021. Once that plan appeared in the papers, many began to envision Deutschland as a broad adult-use market pioneer for continental Europe.

However, recent reports that lawmakers had scaled back their original plan for nation-wide cannabis legalization and proposed a more limited program had caused some confusion. Some lawmakers denied the report, insisting that legalization across the country is the only way to significantly impact the illegal market. In a press conference on Wednesday April 12, Germany’s health minister confirmed that lawmakers had indeed trimmed parts of the bill, limiting recreational cannabis to only certain parts of the country in a not-for-profit framework.

The full regulations are set to be published on April 20, 2023, making 4/20 this year an extra special day for German's to consider their cannabis consumption.

Germany’s winding path to legalization

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) started on the path to cannabis legalization in 2021: promising to end prohibition and create a regulated industry to combat the illegal market. German lawmakers worked on their plans last year, even visiting California’s dispensaries to take notes on how to emulate the state’s legal industry. The original plan was to allow dispensaries and pharmacies to sell recreational cannabis across the country. Adults 18 and over would be allowed to possess 20 to 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to three plants at home for personal use. Lawmakers at the time had cautioned that regulations would be subject to change upon consultation with the European Union’s executive body. The caution was warranted.

After months of negotiations with the EU, on Wednesday April 12 German health minister Karl Lauterbach announced a new regulatory framework, abandoning Germany’s original plan to legalize cannabis broadly across the country. Instead he proposed a tightly controlled, geographically-limited not-for-profit system. The program will operate like an experiment, with authorities assessing how successfully it runs over a five year period.

Is this a set back? Alex Rogers has been hosting the [International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC)( series in Berlin since 2017. We asked for his insight into the recent announcement: "I find it funny how the main-stream media is portraying this as a slow roll-out. Anyone that has been paying attention for the last six months knows that decriminalization was the first step that Germany would approve." Rogers continues approvingly: "This is the biggest piece of cannabis public policy to come out anywhere in the world in the last 5 years. Germany just freed the plant up and will soon codify these inalienable rights into law."

In the revised regulations floated this week, cannabis will be grown and sold by non-profit cannabis “clubs” in certain regions of the country. These cannabis clubs will be limited to 500 members, and will keep a record of these members’ monthly purchases, which will be capped. Adults 18 and over will still be permitted to buy cannabis, but they will be limited to 30 grams a month; adults 21 and over are permitted to purchase 50 grams a month (up to 25 grams at a time).

These regulations will likely be the center of attention at an upcoming Berlin-based International Cannabis Business Conference scheduled for July of this year. Alex Rogers, the conference organizer, believes Germany has set a promising pace: "For business, this is also one of the best things that can happen, in that cooperative grows and social clubs will be ubiquitous. This will lead to an explosion in ancillary services, like extractor machines, harvesting equipment, grow-tech, social apps, etc. Not to mention, this is a precursor to licensed production, processing and retail. Because of Germany's approach, [venture capital] is unable to initially come in and take over, and the little/medium guy has a chance."

The future of cannabis legalization in Germany

German lawmakers insist that national legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis is still a goal, that will depend on how this upcoming club phase unfolds. The European Union’s decision to advise Germany to trim its legalization bill suggests there will be further roadblocks ahead as lawmakers try to navigate international law. In the meantime, the illegal trade will likely remain popular for cannabis users in Germany who aren't members of the initial clubs or don't care to abide by the limits.