At the tail end of 2021, Germany’s coalition government turned heads when it announced plans to legalise recreational cannabis within the next few years. Some even implied that the new legislation could come into force by the end of 2022, meaning that Germany’s legal market could be up and running before that of other countries that had announced their plans years before.
Since June, however, the pace seems to have slowed as the long-standing barriers to legalisation become increasingly obvious. Despite these hurdles, though, the government has evidently not been disheartened. Members of the Bundestag’s Committee on Health recently flew across the Atlantic to check up on things in British Columbia, Canada, and California, USA where adult-use markets have now been around for years. While we are yet to receive any official statements from the German government on the findings of this trip, there are signs that things went well. Unfortunately, the picture is a little hazier when it comes to the political and legal hurdles that still need to be overcome.
So, what exactly is the plan with Germany’s looming legalisation of cannabis?
A Quick Recap
Back in June, Germany’s Commissioner for Addiction and Drug Issues, Burkhard Blienert, officially announced the commencement of five expert hearings that will likely determine the legislative process that would make Germany the largest single cannabis market in the world. As we previously reported, some optimistic advocates took this as a sign that cannabis legalisation could be pushed over the line before the year was out. However, this prospect seems less certain as we move closer to the end of the year.
Nonetheless, there appear to be no plans of abandoning the coalition government’s pledge to introduce the legal and regulated supply of adult-use cannabis products across the country – despite the realisation that this may not be as easy as it may first have appeared. A few months ago, we discussed the potential routes of legalisation that are open to the German government and which one they were likely to take: ‘What could Germany’s legal cannabis market look like?’.
A Trip Across the Pond
Canada and the USA are home to some of the most established medical and recreational cannabis markets in the world. German policymakers took the opportunity to learn from some of the big players in this industry in the run-up to their own legalisation. Germany is already the third-largest medical cannabis market behind – you guessed it! – the USA and Canada. It makes sense then, that the biggest economy in the world would look toward the North American nations in deliberating the next steps.
During their visit, German lawmakers along with Commissioner Burkhard Blienert toured a number of cannabis businesses, including cultivation facilities and dispensaries. During their California leg of the tour, the delegates met with state officials, local stakeholders and advocates to discuss important lessons learned from the introduction of the state’s legal market back in 2016. According to a tweet by the German consulate in San Francisco, officials also “examined products of dispensaries with equity licenses” and took steps to assess “cannabis legalisation opportunities and risks”.
What were the takeaways?
It is still unclear what official conclusions were drawn from the trip to North America. Some back in Germany, however, have given their opinions on what we should learn from Canada’s legalisation process. For example, Canada faced some criticism and resulting teething issues due to initial limits on the number of dispensaries, as well as a patchwork approach to legislation across the country’s 13 provinces. It is likely, then, that German lawmakers will avoid replicating this exact approach.
With a population of around 83.7 million – around double that of both Canada and California – Germany could well be on track to become the largest adult-use market in the world. Therefore, it is likely that the country’s lawmakers are beginning to feel the weight of their decision concerning legalisation – and so is the EU.
A Clash with the European Union
Initial debates on the legalisation of cannabis placed a focus on the UN 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs – an international treaty that is supposed to limit the cultivation and supply of cannabis to medical purposes; however, both Uruguay and Canada managed to get around this when they legalised recreational cannabis. So, on closer inspection, it appears that the real barriers to legalisation could lie closer to home.
Germany has long been the largest economy in Europe, in addition to being one of the most influential member states of the European Union. This privileged position doesn’t mean, however, that German lawmakers shouldn’t expect a clash with the EU as they progress with their plans to legalise adult-use cannabis. In fact, some strains are evidently already beginning to show. Earlier this month, a legal analysis by the Bundestag’s research facility was leaked to a German news outlet. It warned that the move to legalise cannabis would breach a number of European regulations – the extent to which this could burden the process remains to be seen.
German lawmakers are reportedly keeping an eye on what is happening over the border in Luxembourg, where the government is exploring plans to scrap bans on cannabis consumption on private property but maintaining the ban in public spaces. It still isn’t clear whether Germany will follow suit with similar plans or opens its doors to cannabis coffeeshops like those seen in the Netherlands – and increasingly in California – or social clubs that have become familiar in Spain.
Creating a self-sufficient market
Current international regulations control the cross-border trade of cannabis products containing THC for recreational purposes. Therefore, to avoid any conflict with these laws, it is likely that Germany will look toward a self-sufficient domestic market.
On the other side of this coin, however, Germany’s plan to legalise cannabis could, in theory, influence changes to the UN 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs. Many cannabis advocates and lawmakers across Europe and the rest of the world have suggested that continued reforms in European countries could trigger a domino effect. As Justus Haucap, the director of the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics, put it: “European countries that have a much bigger problem with illegal cannabis use, like France, are watching very closely what Germany is doing at the moment.”
He continued: “In theory, Germany could exit the UN single convention and rejoin only specific parts of it. But I am fairly optimistic that with changes happening in Canada, the US and now Germany, we could also be looking at a reform of the convention in regards to the cannabis trade.”
If such a scenario was to present itself, it would certainly make it easier for more countries around the world to follow suit and re-assess their approach to cannabis prohibition.
The Next Steps
Despite the evident hurdles and challenges for the German government, lawmakers have reassured the population that there is a solution. In an Instagram Live earlier this month, Carmen Wegge and Dirk Heidenblut – two German Bundestag members from the SPD party – insisted that they will find a legal solution that will not affect the aforementioned timeline to legalisation.
As we prepare to enter the last quarter of the year, we are as yet no clearer on what Germany’s legal cannabis market will actually look like. According to the most recent reports, we shouldn’t expect fully-fledged legalisation until the beginning of 2024. Nonetheless, it seems we can still expect a draft bill on the issue to be released by the end of the year. Until then, we look forward to gaining more clarity on the German government’s chosen legalisation model for what could soon become the largest legal cannabis market in the world.