Towards the end of 2021, Germany set the global cannabis market on fire when the country’s then-new ‘traffic light’ coalition made a long-anticipated announcement regarding the future of cannabis in Europe’s largest economy. While initial plans suggested adult-use sales in licensed shops could potentially materialise from as early as the end of 2022, legal hurdles soon appeared to slow progress.  

More recently, talks with the European Commission appear to have provided a further reality check regarding Germany’s legalisation plans, culminating in the announcement of a scaled-back plan of action last week. The outcome of these talks was long-awaited by politicians, cannabis users and business owners, alike – so, what do the revised plans mean for the up-and-coming German cannabis market? 

Changes to Germany’s Proposed Cannabis Legalisation 

Since the leaking of a proposed legalisation framework in October of last year, many had been awaiting official announcements of the plans to go ahead with the licensing of Amsterdam-style coffeeshops where recreational consumers could purchase and consume cannabis without fear of prosecution. However, the latest developments, announced by German lawmakers last week, have firmly put this possibility out of play – at least for now. Instead, Germany’s cannabis legalisation will take a combination of approaches, similar to those seen in other European countries.  

The need to scale back legalisation plans became clear as Ministers say they were restricted by EU rules obliging member states to abide by joint measures to reduce drug supply and demand in Europe. 

“We came to the conclusion that the draft [legalisation plan] at that time would not take us any further in pursuing our goals,” explained German health minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday 12th April, following talks with the European Commission. 

The latest revisions of Germany’s legalisation plan are set to approach the reform in two phases: 

The First Phase 

We may have been expecting the introduction of licensed cannabis shops where adult consumers could choose from a variety of recreational cannabis products, but this is not to be. Under the scaled-back plans, cannabis will instead only be available from cannabis social clubs – similar to those that have been found in Spain for years.  

The supply in these non-profit establishments will be controlled and regulated by the state with only members permitted to purchase a limited amount of cannabis. Finally, consumption of cannabis in these clubs will be strictly prohibited, with consumers instead allowed to partake in use at home. A limit of 500 members will be placed on cannabis members’ clubs. 

But what about home cultivation? Well, according to the latest changes to the proposals, adults in Germany will be permitted to grow up to three female cannabis plants per person. This is one part of the original proposal that has remained unchanged since the German government’s talks with the European Commission. Home cultivation will apply to recreational and medical users alike, although patients will still be able to access medical cannabis products via prescription. 

The plan to legalise the possession of cannabis is also likely to go ahead. This would mean that individuals are permitted to carry up to 25 grams of cannabis on their person.  

The Second Phase 

The commercial side of Germany’s cannabis legalisation is taking a back seat, for now; however, it has not been forgotten completely. In fact, the government now plans to launch regional projects to test the effects of a legal recreational cannabis market before, hopefully, eventually rolling it out across the whole country. According to current reports, the projects will take five years from initiation and will be constantly monitored during this time.  

This approach is similar to those taken in other European countries – notably, Germany’s neighbours the Netherlands (where the legal supply of cannabis is still illegal) and Switzerland. This year, legalisation in Luxembourg took a similar turn to that in Germany when lawmakers scaled back plans over fears of clashing with international drug laws. However, Germany’s persistence in the face of increasingly clear obstacles and red tape is likely to spur on other countries looking to abandon the prohibition model – and that is exactly the intention. 

The two phases proposed by German lawmakers last week aim to address both home cultivation and, eventually, commercial supply chains. “This will be accompanied by a concerted effort by the German government to find supporters in Europe for this progressive, prevention-oriented cannabis policy,” health minister Lauterbach explained. 

The response to the latest revisions to Germany’s legalisation proposal has so far been mixed. While some see the scaled-back plans as a watered-down attempt at reforms taking place in Canada and across the US, others will see this as a good thing. Not only are German lawmakers not backing down on their aim to get cannabis legalisation over the line (even if they have to temporarily postpone some aspects), but some could also argue that the latest plans could help Germany avoid the mistakes seen in some US states; for example, in California, the black market is still thriving years after cannabis legalisation. 

Implications on the Medical Cannabis Market 

Germany legalised medical cannabis in 2016 and, since then, the country has become the largest medical cannabis market in the whole of Europe. However, figures show that Germany may still be struggling to keep up with patient demand for medical cannabis. Low prescription figures across the country could be down to an unwillingness to prescribe among clinicians, possibly due to a persistent lack of education around the substance.  

Some may interpret this as a sign of things to come for the eventual recreational cannabis market, with the potential for consumers to be left without a sufficient legal cannabis supply. However, it is equally possible that an accompanying push for public and professional education (including in medical circles) could eventually contribute to increased medical cannabis availability for patients.  

Many people, both in Germany and looking on from other corners of the globe, will hope that the final measures – which are yet to be officially announced – will succeed in addressing limitations in both the recreational and medical supply of cannabis in Germany. If they succeed in doing that, Germany’s legalisation model could still become an inspiration for many other countries across Europe and the rest of the world.