Germany’s Cannabis Act (CanG) took another important step forward this week after its first parliamentary debate was held in the Bundestag (German Parliament).
The short but impassioned debate saw the bill and its proponents endure criticism from opposition parties, with two motions filed calling for the bill to be stopped in its tracks.
However, the debate also saw members of the Traffic Light Coalition ‘show a great deal of unity’, and demonstrate their intention to push the bill through.
Crucially, there appeared to be widespread support for making amendments to the bill which the industry have been calling for since the proposals were first announced, including reducing overall bureaucracy and revisiting the 200m rule.
The German Federal Council (Bundesrat) last month voted through the bill, which will see Pillar 1 of Germany’s cannabis strategy brought into law.
It proposes to make possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis legal for adults, enable home cultivation of up to three plants, roll out not-for-profit cannabis cultivation clubs and, vitally, remove cannabis from the Narcotics Act.
On Wednesday October 18, the Bundestag held the first of three debates or ‘readings’ on the bill. The primary goal of the first reading is to designate special committees which will take the points raised into account, and vote on changes ahead of the second reading. The Health Committee is now understood to be taking the lead on discussions moving forward.
Cannabiswirtschaft erfreut über 1. Lesung des Cannabisgesetz (#CanG) im Bundestag
🏛🌿 Wichtiger Paradigmenwechsel steht bevor, Fachpolitiker geben Hinweise auf sinnvolle Verbesserungspunktehttps://t.co/fteUSeOVAb
— Branchenverband Cannabiswirtschaft e.V. (@BvCW_de) October 18, 2023
Following last month’s recommendations from the Bundesrat, the German upper house that represents the country’s 16 states at a federal level, the Federal Government (Bundesregierung) made a counter statement ahead of the debate.
It said it did not share the states’ concerns that the rollout of the bill would mean ‘high financial consequences’ for the individual states, suggesting states could simply adjust their personnel and material resource capacities, and that decriminalisation would mean major savings through fewer criminal charges and proceedings.
After the debate the CDU/CSU, which has long been hostile to the bill, submitted a motion to the committees entitled ‘Stop Cannabis Legalisation…’, while the populist AfD party also submitted a motion calling for the parliament to ‘abandon the legalisation of cannabis’, and instead focus on medical and pharmaceutical routes.
Key takeaways from the debate
Although the reading was focused on the CanG adult-use bill, a number of industry stakeholders have pointed to the ‘positive developments for the medical market’ to come out of the debate.
Simone Borchardt of the CDU/CSU called for the ‘abolition of the approval requirement for the reimbursement of therapy costs or the strengthening of doctors’ therapeutic sovereignty’, an intervention the German Cannabis Business Association (BvCW) called ‘encouraging for the cannabis industry’.
Dr. Constantin von der Groeben, Co-Founder & Managing Director at Demecan, told Business of Cannabis that this showed that while the CDU/CSU is still against recreational cannabis, ‘they’re open to cannabis as a medicinal drug and that’s already a big, big change compared to five years ago.’
On this point, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomwell Group, Niklas Kouparanis, also suggested this was a really positive step for the medical industry, adding that the ‘the wide agreement across party lines of the outstanding value of medical cannabis’ was ‘remarkable’.
Discussions then turned to some of the most criticised aspects of the bill, including the controversial ‘noise clause’, which not only suggests that industrial hemp (THC content below 0.3%) is possible to abuse but that doing so would be punishable, despite the fact that cannabis is set to be removed from the Narcotics Act.
The BvCW has previously stated this is akin to ‘prosecuting the sale of non-alcoholic beer because you could extract a liquor from it’.
It said: “The law is a good first step towards the necessary legal reassessment of cannabis. By the second reading, the so-called “noise clause” regarding industrial hemp must be removed from the law, then both agriculture and trade could benefit from a secure legal framework.”
Members of the Traffic Light Coalition also made it clear that they planned to address a number of other issues, specifically around the practicality and over-bureaucracy of the current bill.
Mr Kouparanis explained: “Germany’s Traffic Light Coalition has shown a great deal of unity and will… Fortunately, several representatives of the traffic light factions also indicated that there is still room to improve the current draft of the legislation, including modifications that can result in less bureaucracy and more practical relevance.”
Next year, Germany could become the first major European country to legalize cannabis. But continued prohibition in so-called youth protection zones will make it difficult in practice. https://t.co/qgRIpxiAgR
— Big Think (@bigthink) September 27, 2023
“For example, it’s still possible to adjust the legislation’s distance regulations, which would be difficult to verify. However, while we do expect this adjustment to be made, if the distance regulations remain in the legislation, there must be exceptions for medical cannabis patients. Criminalising patients would be absurd.”
Alongside the near-unworkable 200m distance rules, FDP drug policy spokeswoman Kristine Lütke also emphasised the need to reexamine rules preventing consumption in social clubs, adding that all the proposals should be checked for their practical suitability.
Dr Groeben added that another key issue repeatedly raised by Demecan was that Germany is over reliant on imports, and that this had also been addressed during the session.
“What I heard from the first reading was that all the concerns put forward by the industry have been addressed. So we are very optimistic that they will actually work on it and work on improving this government proposal.”
SPD MP Dirk Heidenblut echoed this, stating: “We still have to improve a lot of things.”
What happens now?
After the first reading was delayed by a number of days following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, there were concerns that the bill would be thrown off its tight timetable.
However, these concerns have since subsided and the bill is now back ‘within the scheduled timeline’, which Dr Groeben suggests is ‘already a very big plus’.
Now the Health Committee is set to consider the proposals on November 06, where committee members will discuss and vote on planned amendments, before the bill is scheduled to make its second and third hearings on November 16.
Barring unexpected delays, the bill is expected to be brought into law on January 01, 2024, though a number of stakeholders have acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done in just a matter of weeks.