Germany has taken a significant step towards fulfilling its ambitious plans to roll out an adult-use cannabis framework this week, after the draft bill was approved by the Bundesregierung (Federal Cabinet).
While the passage is just the first step on the ladder to have the bill brought into law, its architect is hopeful this will be achieved by the end of the year.
German cannabis businesses, many of which have seen their stock prices spike on the news, may not have got exactly what they had hoped for when the legalisation project was announced two years earlier.
However, now that the legislative ball has been set in motion, many are optimistic that Germany will soon be beyond ‘the point of no return’ on the path to full legalisation.
Regulation of adult-use cannabis in Europe’s largest country
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (August 16) following the cabinet approval of the draft bill, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach emphasised that its passage ‘marks a turning point in what has unfortunately been a failed cannabis drug policy’.
The 182-page document focuses on Pillar 1 of Germany’s cannabis strategy, seeking to decriminalise possession of up to 25g of cannabis, enable consumers to cultivate up to three of their own plants, and regulate the rollout of cannabis associations of up to 500 people.
After its initial plans, laid bare in its ‘Eckpunktepapier’ last year, were all but rejected by the European Commission, the latest iteration of the bill essentially seeks to push through everything the government can achieve without being pushed back by international lawmakers.
Cannabis wird legal. Ein Wendepunkt in der gescheiterten Drogenpolitik. Bisher steigen Konsum, Kriminalität und der Schwarzmarkt wächst. Oft gibt es toxische Beimengungen. So konnte es einfach nicht weitergehen. Stellt hier Fragen. Am Freitag gebe ich Antworten in „Sprechstunde“ https://t.co/ZhG3NExdsq
— Prof. Karl Lauterbach (@Karl_Lauterbach) August 16, 2023
As David Henn, the Managing Director of Cannamedical, told Neue Zürcher Zeitung this week: “Everything that you are sure you can get through has been packed into the first pillar of the law: reclassification, home cultivation, cannabis clubs.”
After a draft of the new ‘legalisation light’ strategy was published in July, there was significant pushback from many in the industry regarding what was viewed as overregulation, as Business of Cannabis has previously reported.
Following a consultation period in which over 50 comments were received from the industry, the Ministry of Health prepared the latest revised version of the draft bill.
To the disappointment of many, few of the glaring issues standing in the way of the bill being able to achieve its ambitions have been addressed.
Kai-Friedrich Niermann, cannabis lawyer and industry expert, told Business of Cannabis he believes this bill ‘is a disaster’, seeing the legalisation project ‘run into the void’.
“Everything is subordinated to the protection of minors and health protection, out of a health policy alarmism, and completely renounces liberal, socially just and practicable regulations.”
He argues that the bill’s core goals, namely to protect consumers from the illegal market and ensure as much cannabis is grown via legal means as possible, are being hamstrung by ‘bureaucratic overkill’.
“With this bill, you may be allowed to carry 25 grams without penalty, but otherwise not much changes, especially in the supply situation for users. Anything else would be window dressing. The illegal market will retain its relevance, and neither the police nor the courts will be relieved by the introduction of numerous penalties and fines.”
According to the newly published draft, ‘adults are allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants themselves for their own consumption’.
Mr Niermann points out that the stipulations surrounding this, namely that you are only allowed to store 25 grams of cannabis at once, make little sense.
“The wording of the explanatory memorandum to the law on page 109 states the following: ‘Rather, it should be ensured that adults can successively harvest their cultivated cannabis plant to the extent that they possess a maximum of 25 grams of harvested cannabis for their own consumption.’
“This choice of words clearly proves that the authors of this draft have no idea whatsoever about the cultivation of cannabis. When the plant is ready to be harvested, it must be harvested as a whole and further processed, i.e. dried and trimmed. Successive harvesting is never possible.”
🏛 Cannabiswirtschaft begrüßt neuen CanG-Entwurf als ersten Schritt & hält an weiteren Verbesserungsvorschlägen fest
🔽 Zur Pressemitteilung 🔽https://t.co/YZTKeGif1J
— Branchenverband Cannabiswirtschaft e.V. (@BvCW_de) August 16, 2023
These barriers to self-cultivation mean consumers must turn to the cultivation associations, which are ‘completely over-regulated with 20 extensive paragraphs’.
“It remains to be seen who would want to take on this torture, quite apart from the question of financing a cultivation if it is to be borne exclusively by its members and is not allowed to be profit-oriented. In addition, there is an extensive ban on sponsorship,” Mr Niermann continued.
This ban on sponsorship was also highlighted by the German Cannabis Business Association (BvCW).
“The BvCW sees a need for an examination of the planned ban on sponsorship, because e.g. B. the promotion of professional education, the promotion of research and the implementation of specialist events and trade fairs should continue to be possible,” it said.
The association, which counts many of Germany’s largest operators among its 90 members, pointed to a number of other areas it ‘is hoping for further important and practicable improvements’, including ‘hard-to-understand’ regulation around hemp, which was originally intended to be abolished.
“This hard-to-understand ‘intoxication clause’ has already led to the confiscation of hemp fields and the criminal prosecution of many traders because of harmless hemp. An independent industrial hemp law (LebenshanfG) seems to make sense to restore the German competitiveness of farmers and the German industrial hemp industry.
“Urgent changes are still needed in the field of medical cannabis, such as simplifying cultivation within Germany, increasing the freedom of therapy for doctors, promoting research and improving reimbursements.”
‘Most important reform since 2017’
While many in the industry feel there is clearly work to be done, the fact the bill has made it over the regulatory starting line has been widely celebrated as a positive step forward for the entire European cannabis industry.
Despite their concerns, the BvCW said: “For the cannabis industry, the present draft law is the most important reform since the introduction of regular prescriptions for medical cannabis in 2017.”
The bill must now make its way through both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, a process which is expected to see the German parliament endure ‘many heated debates’ on the topic.
Lauterbach’s draft has its share of adversaries, ranging from child physicians, to judges, police, opposition parties and even from within his own Social Democrats (SPD).
Despite this, Lauterbach himself is confident the bill will be passed, stating numerous times during the press conference that it does not require approval in the state chamber, and that the Ministry expects it to come into force by the end of the year, with few changes during the parliamentary process.
Mr Niermann was less sure. He said: “This draft comes from an SPD-led federal ministry. It is doubtful whether the coalition partners, the Greens and the FDP, will support such a restrictive draft. The deliberations on this draft may therefore continue for months until an agreement is reached. The resolution of the bill in the Bundestag is therefore by no means a formality.”
Niklas Kouparanis, CEO and co-founder of German cannabis company Bloomwell Group, shared Mr Lauterbach’s optimism, stating: “With Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party ‘traffic light’ coalition government, passing the law should be a mere formality, although some heated debates lie ahead in the coming days and weeks.”
“But if the cannabis clubs included in the legislation open at the beginning of next year, that would be the point of no return – adult-use legislation policies must continue.”