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Germany unveils revised proposals for cannabis legalisation

The plans are expected to see the roll out of the limited legalisation of cannabis in Germany by the end of the year.



Health Minister Professor Karl Lauterbach presented the revised proposals on Wednesday 12 April.

German ministers have taken the first step on a ‘long but meaningful journey’, which could lay the groundwork for cannabis reform across Europe. 

Cornerstone proposals for Germany’s approach to the legalisation of adult-use cannabis were announced by the Health Minister, Professor Karl Lauterbach, at a press conference on Wednesday 12 April.

The plans take the form of a two-pillar model, known as the Club, Cultivation & Regional (CARe) model, which will see the roll out of the limited legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes by the end of the year.

Initial proposals announced in October for the nationwide legalisation of adult-use cannabis have been scaled back following discussions with the EU Commission in recent weeks.

However the government’s aims to combat the illicit market and take a public health approach to drug policy remain the same.

Professor Lauterbach commented: “Cannabis is a common stimulant. It is often offered and used illegally in Germany. This is often a health hazard. Adolescents in particular are impaired in their social and cognitive development by cannabis. Despite this, more and more young people are using the drug. The black market goods are often contaminated and create additional health hazards. We can no longer accept this. 

“That’s why we dare the controlled sale of cannabis to adults within clear limits and push back the black market, flanked by preventive measures for young people. Health protection is the priority. The previous cannabis policy has failed. Now we have to break new ground.”

What to expect from the two-pillar model 

The first pillar will see the roll out of decriminalisation as ‘quickly and pragmatically’ as possible, with the implementation of non-profit cannabis social clubs and adults permitted to carry up to 25g of cannabis for personal use. 

Described as the ‘next step on the way to nationwide legalisation’, the second pillar will take the form of a regional experiment model to introduce commercial supply chains for regulated cannabis products in specific areas. 

Phase one – decriminalisation imminently 

Pillar one will see the establishment of cannabis social clubs, with non-profit associations permitted to grow and sell cannabis under ‘narrow, clearly defined legal frameworks’.

Adults will be permitted to carry up to 25g of cannabis in public and grow up to three plants in private for personal use. 

Clubs may have a maximum of 500 members, all of whom must be over the age of 18. Any distribution to third parties is illegal.

Consumption on the association’s premises is prohibited until 8pm, as is public consumption near schools, day-care centres and in pedestrian zones.

Distribution to adolescents under the age of 21 is limited to an amount of 30g per month and there will also be a limit on the permitted THC content which is yet to be determined. 

There is a ban on the advertising of the associations and of cannabis in general.

In addition, previous convictions for cannabis-related offences which are no longer in breach of the law will be revoked and early intervention and prevention programmes will be mandatory for minors found in possession of cannabis.

After four years these specifications will be evaluated, ‘with the aim of examining any adjustments with regard to health and youth protection as well as reducing the black market’. 

Phase two – regional experiments 

As predicted, the second pillar will examine the effects of establishing a commercial supply of regulated cannabis products in specific regions of Germany, in an experiment model similar to that seen in Switzerland.

Adult residents in certain districts across several federal states will be permitted to buy cannabis from specialty stores within a ‘licensed and government controlled framework’. 

The project is expected to last five years from the establishment of a commercial supply chain. 

Findings from the experiment will be scientifically monitored and evaluated in relation to the impact on youth protection and illicit market use and these will be made available to the EU Commission and European partners.

A roadmap for legalisation in Europe?

Following Germany’s initial proposals for legalisation, there were concerns over how they would pass under international law, as all EU member states abide by the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Presenting the new proposals, Professor Lauterbach was accompanied by the Minister for Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, who highlighted the challenges of negotiating international and EU laws. 

“This is not an easy project due to the controversial debate,” he said.

“The tackling of International and EU laws is a complicated situation.”

According to the new paper, the German government will use international and European legal framework to form the basis of the two pillars and ‘close and transparent coordination’ with European partners will be important.

Professor Lauterbach also said the model could be used as a roadmap for the rest of Europe, with the aim of working with EU member states to ‘encourage cannabis politics and trade’.

The first step on a ‘long but meaningful’ journey

Branchenverband Cannabiswirtschaft e.V. (BvCW), an association of German cannabis organisations, has welcomed the news as a ‘good first step’ on a ‘long but meaningful journey’. 

Managing director Jürgen Neumeyer, commented: “We welcome the announced removal of cannabis from the BtMG. This also enables progress in the areas of industrial hemp, medical cannabis and in the legal clarification of CBD products. 

“We are also pleased that the federal government is campaigning for more flexibility and further development of the EU legal framework in other EU member states and hope for corresponding reforms. 

“As the cannabis industry, we will continue to support the federal government and the legislature in the ‘big steps’ announced by the federal ministers Lauterbach and Özdemir.”

Ensuring consumer protection 

While the details of the regional model are yet to be announced, according to the BvCW ‘numerous’ companies are in ‘the starting blocks’ ready to set up specialist shops and implement quality controls and tracing systems. 

Representatives of the German cannabis industry are calling for the ‘widest possible distribution of points of sale’ and ‘variety of products’ in order to ensure the supply chain is robust enough to compete with the illicit market and ensure consumer protection.

Dirk Heitepriem, vice-president and departmental coordinator for the regulation of luxury goods in the BvCW, said: “It is important that diversity is guaranteed when supplying the model projects. Structures must be created that make investments in the controlled cannabis market permanently attractive. In order to effectively push back the black market, a nationwide supply of the model projects by a wide variety of different growers and processors is required.”

Some are also concerned that proposed changes to medical cannabis regulations may not go far enough to ensure all patients have the costs of their medication reimbursed by the public health system. 

Heitepriem highlighted that without further reforms patients may choose to access the treatment through clubs rather than under clinical guidance.

He added: “In order to prevent self-paying patients from migrating to the cultivation clubs, cannabis as a medicine law must be significantly amended. Medically necessary therapies should always be accompanied by a doctor and the costs of the medication should be reimbursed.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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