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Speedy Amnesty for Cannabis Convictions in Germany

Written for Business of Cannabis by Prohibition Partners Senior Analyst Alex Khourdaji


According to a recent request made by the ARD to all federal states in Germany, over 125 people have been released from prison due to the new amnesty rules associated with the recent partial cannabis legalisation in the country.

As the new cannabis law in Germany, which came into effect on 1 April 2024, is retroactive, past criminals who would no longer be criminalised under the new regulations, can get their past cannabis charges expunged or reduced.

Based on the ARD’s findings, prison releases have already occurred in the city of Hamm and the federal states of Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatine. This was followed by a past inquiry made on 9 April 2024 by the German broadcaster, ZDF, which found that prison releases also occurred in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Saarland and Saxony.

Source: Preliminary numbers acquired by ARD (05/05/2024) & ZDF (09/04/2024)

These are only the initial findings regarding the amnesty ruling as many federal states have still not completed their review of past cannabis convictions. It has been noted that roughly 216,000 convictions have been reviewed thus far and 10,000 cases are still pending.

Most cases that have been reviewed and expunged are associated with fines regarding the possession and/or cultivation of small amounts of cannabis. The federal state of Bremen was one of the first to complete its review as 531 cases were examined, of which in 58 cases new penalties were adopted and in 63 cases new fines which have not been enforced were waived.

In the weeks before the final sitting and vote of the new Cannabis law in the German Bundesrat, there was a significant outcry by legalisation opponents who stated that the amnesty ruling would overwhelm the judiciary as there wasn’t enough time for departments to prepare before the legalisation date. This was further echoed on 22 March 2024 in the Budesrat sitting as the North Rhine-Westphalia’s Minister for Justice and Berlin’s Senator for Justice and Consumer Protection both made the argument to call a mediation committee to remove the amnesty clause which would have delayed or hindered the country’s legalisation process. However, these statements were rather surprising as many judiciaries in the federal states had already begun their case examinations months before the law came into force.

These developments are considerable milestones for Germany’s new path towards cannabis governance and justice, however, some issues remain, specifically the amount of time it takes to review and recalculate sentences for mixed cases. These are cases where cannabis-related offences are only a part of the overall conviction and thus must be reevaluated by a judge to be excluded from the overall sentence. This process is very time-consuming as applications have to undergo lengthy judiciary routes.

It is, however, important to note that Germany has been considerably fast with implementing its amnesty rules as in its first month of the new Cannabis law over 125 prison releases have been made. In Canada for example, this process took a lot longer as after two years of cannabis legalisation only 257 pardons had been granted for simple cannabis possession. This process took longer in Canada as it took the government a whole year after legalisation to implement an expedited pardon process for simple possession. Thus, if Germany continues with this pace, it may be used as a potential case study on how to implement efficient amnesty regulations surrounding new drug legalisation policies.

The 9th Edition of Prohibition Partners’ European Cannabis Report, the longest-standing annual report dedicated to Europe’s evolving and dynamic legal cannabis market, will be launched this week and will delve into the rapidly developing German market in more detail.  Pre-order the report now. 

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