Germany could be set to scale back its plans for the nationwide legalisation of adult-use cannabis in favour of a ‘more realistic’ approach to reform – but what will this look like?
There has been much hype and speculation around Germany’s plans to legalise adult-use cannabis, since draft proposals were announced by the Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) in October.
Under the initial proposals citizens over the age of 18 would be free to carry up to 30g of cannabis for personal use and to grow up to three plants per person at home. Sales of regulated products would also be permitted from licensed retail shops, pharmacies and online.
Commentators questioned how the proposals would pass under international law. As all European Union (EU) member states abide by the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, any move to legalise the non-medical use of cannabis would contravene this.
Despite these concerns, last month Lauterbach appeared confident that his plans would be approved by the EU after receiving ‘very good feedback’ from the European Commission.
However, on Friday following reports that the SPD did not consider legalisation ‘feasible in the short-term’ the Health Minister announced that he would be returning to the EU with ‘revised proposals’ soon.
"Wir haben die Vorschläge überarbeitet und die werden wir auch in Kürze vorstellen. " – @Karl_Lauterbach kündigt einen überarbeiteten Gesetzentwurf für die Cannabis-Legalisierung an. pic.twitter.com/X9eYeuqgX4— Bericht aus Berlin (@ARD_BaB) March 31, 2023
What do we know about the revised proposals?
What the revised proposals will look like remains unclear, with an announcement expected in the coming weeks.
Reports from Germany indicate that the draft law could include decriminalisation and cultivation for personal use, which would not need approval from the EU.
This would allow consumers to possess a limited amount of cannabis and could see the establishment of cannabis clubs and associations. Some sources have suggested this could be implemented as early as May.
The social experiment model
Some German media outlets have reported that the new legalisation framework may take the form of a trial or ‘experiment’ which would allow limited sales in certain areas while monitoring the outcome, as is being seen in countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands.
German-based investment analyst, Alfredo Pascual, says this approach may be ‘easier to justify’ in terms of international law, as the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs permits the use of cannabis for scientific purposes. However, it wouldn’t be ‘without its challenges’.
“The idea of cannabis social experiments for ‘scientific purposes’ has its merits but I don’t think that it’s a pathway that could be abused to have massive, open-ended, free-for-all experiments without real scientific output,” he told Cannabis Health.
“International treaties need to be interpreted ‘in good faith’ [Articles 26 and 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties].
“For it to work, I believe it would probably need to be subject to several limitations, and research organisations, for instance, universities, would probably have to be involved.”
A move towards ‘more realistic’ reform?
The decision to revise the proposals could be viewed as a move towards ‘more realistic’ reform, which may have a ‘higher likelihood’ of success at both EU and UN level.
Pascual was one of those who warned that a solution to the issue of international law would be needed when it was confirmed that a coalition government agreement intended to pursue adult-use cannabis legalisation in 2021.
“It looks like finally some dialogue has taken place between German and EU authorities, but the result of it is still unclear,” he added.
“In any case, it may be positive if German authorities are now more realistic about what would have a higher likelihood of success in terms of international law in the foreseeable future, so that they start implementing some cannabis reform before the end of the current legislative period.”
Will this have any impact on medical cannabis?
Medical cannabis has been legal in Germany since 2017 and can be prescribed by any doctor for patients with serious medical conditions.
Lauterbach’s proposals are not likely to have any impact on legal access to medicinal cannabis in Germany, where patient numbers are the highest in Europe, according to recent analysis.
It is one of the few countries where the treatment can be reimbursed under the public health insurance system. Recent changes announced by the Federal Joint Committee (G-BA) are expected to see cannabis products treated more in line with conventional medications.
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