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Delayed Again: Frustration as SPD Prevents Germany’s Cannabis Bill From Progressing at 11th Hour

Germany’s CanG bill has been delayed yet again, just days after reports emerged that the coalition parties and Ministry of Health had come to an agreement on some of its most contentious points.

In a ‘frustrating’ and ‘utterly surprising’ development over the weekend, members of the SPD party have rowed back on these agreements, and have delayed the final readings of the bill until 2024.

While discourse surrounding the bill’s sticking points has so far been remarkably public and transparent, the reasons behind the latest delay remain shrouded in ambiguity.

Some remain optimistic that the first part of the bill could still be enacted by its recently revised deadline of April 1, 2024, yet, with others suggesting the bill is now being used as a political bargaining tool in an increasingly fractured coalition, its future remains uncertain.

What happened?

Last week, Business of Cannabis reported that despite fears the coalition working group responsible for hammering out the details of the CanG Act could require further time to find common ground, the SPD, Greens, FDP factions and Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) agreed on a number of key changes to the bill.

On November 27, the SPD party announced publicly that the coalition had now ‘agreed on the cannabis law’, and that the second and final readings were set to take place in ‘mid-December’.

This new date, already pushed back multiple times, was set to see the decriminalisation and home cultivation take effect from March/April 2024, with the rollout of cultivation associations to follow in July 2024.

However, over the weekend, it was confirmed that the mid-December vote would no longer take place.

On Monday, Der Spiegel reported that the bill was encountering ‘massive resistance’ from inside the SPD, with sources suggesting that despite its own Karl Lauterbach leading the charge on CanG, an agreement was never reached with the internal politicians of the parliamentary group.

With last week’s news largely allaying fears that the bill could get stuck in inter-party squabbles for months, few expected disagreements within the SPD to derail its progress once again.

CEO of Germany’s Cannovum Cannabis AG Klaus Madzia told Business of Cannabis: “I think everybody that I know of was utterly surprised by this. Everybody assumed that the SPD was itself aligned to Lauterbach and the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health has been in the driving seat. We were assuming that internally the SPD Parliamentary group was aligned.”

With opposition from within the SPD coming to light, and the possibility of it being voted down and defeated entirely, it was removed from the ballot.

Reasons behind the opposition

Although confirmation of the delay came from Dirk Heidenblut, the SPD’s health politician responsible for the topic cannabis in his party, he refused to elaborate on the reasons behind his party’s misgivings over the weekend.

A spokesperson for the party said: “The cannabis law agreed in the coalition agreement is on the home stretch. We are confident that the law will be passed promptly in the Bundestag in the new year.”

However, it is apparent that while ‘specialist politicians’ are in agreement over the heavily amended bill, major obstacles are yet to be overcome throughout the rest of the party.

The SPD’s Sebastian Fiedler told Der Spiegel that there is ‘still a lot of need for discussion’ surrounding the bill, on which he has been voicing his ‘concerns publicly for six months’.

Furthermore, SPD domestic policy spokesman Sebastian Hartmann raised issues with the original wording of the ‘coalition agreement’ which raises a ‘multitude of questions that need to be answered’.

The pair also raised concerns about the ‘uncontrolled home cultivation for adults’, the lack of the law’s potential impact on organised crime, and the recently updated rules around the distance from schools.

In a LinkedIn post, Bloomwell Group’s Niklas Kouparanis called references to the coalition agreement ‘particularly cynical’.

He told Business of Cannabis: “It seems that some Social Democratic Party (SPD) members of parliament are not familiar with their own coalition agreement…

“This unnecessary delay is regrettable and an affront to voters, cannabis users and patients, who are waiting for the legislation to reclassify cannabis so they can receive safer, more reliable and more effective medical care.

“But all the more regrettable are the disruptive fires from within its own ranks, which are primarily causing uncertainty and confusion.”

What now?

Alongside indications from the SPD leadership that the bill will now be put to a vote in ‘promptly in the new year’, party members from elsewhere in the coalition have suggested that the renewed timeline could remain on track if a final reading takes place before January 19.

The Greens Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, who has been one of the most vocal commentators on the progress of the bill, said in a tweet: “It is extremely unfortunate that #Cannabis is not yet on #Tagesordnung . A set-up would have been possible. Important: The entry into force planned for April 1st in the draft can also be achieved if it is set up at the beginning of the year!”

The FDP’s Kristine Lütke meanwhile, emphasised that if a final reading does not happen in ‘January at the latest’, there was little chance of meeting these deadlines.

A revised date for the final reading has not yet been set, and while the industry remains optimistic about the upcoming changes, the government’s repeated broken promises and increased pressure on businesses that come with them are beginning to sour this positive sentiment.

Mr Madzia concluded: “We’re frustrated, we want this to move along. But I stand by what I’ve always said, we’d rather this be done right and take time than be done quickly and be done wrong.”

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