Germany is currently in the international cannabis community spotlight with a national adult-use legalization measure expected to be formally introduced at any moment. The measure will be the culmination of years of effort by activists and lawmakers in Germany, as well as a heavy dose of recent lobbying of the European Union on the part of Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach. While legalization appears inevitable in Germany, it remains to be seen exactly what the nation’s legalization model will entail.
The current political push in Germany was born out of the 2021 federal election from which a new governing coalition was elected. The “Traffic Light Coalition,” as it’s often referred to, was quick to establish its intent to pass a national adult-use measure and to launch a regulated recreational industry. Many members of the Traffic Light Coalition participated in a historic cannabis policy discussion at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Berlin in the weeks leading up to the federal election. At that time, they indicated that legalization would be part of an eventual governing coalition agreement.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a proposal in October 2022 to the federal cabinet, providing the world with a first glimpse at what legalization may look like in Germany. However, what was presented last year was merely a proposal—not a formal measure—and it’s unclear how much of Lauterbach’s presentation will make it to the finish line.
Lobbying the European Union
During Minister Lauterbach’s October presentation, he made it abundantly clear that he would seek the European Union’s approval before formally introducing any legalization measure. Since that time, Minister Lauterbach has participated in discussions with the European Union. Leaks and comments regarding how the process is going have generated several headlines. Cannabis observers around the globe have kept a close eye to watch for any movement, and a set of comments made by Minister Lauterbach in late January may be the most telling of anything that’s surfaced thus far.
According to reports out of Germany, Lauterbach is “certain” the European Union will grant its approval and that a formal introduction of the legalization measure will occur “in the first quarter of this year.” Minister Lauterbach added, according to the report, that he “has no reason to doubt this schedule.”
Those comments may provide hints regarding the timeline for a formal introduction of a legalization measure. However, they don’t shine any light on what components of legalization the European Union may be OK with, and what components it considers to be potential deal breakers.
The legalization model that Minister Lauterbach presented to the federal cabinet late last year was based on domestic production; home cultivation permitted in adult households (three plants); and the eventual legalization of adult-use sales. The Minister’s reasoning appears to be that treaties prevent Germany from importing cannabis for adult-use sales, but that Germany can legalize a domestically supplied adult-use cannabis industry to “improve public health outcomes.” Minister Lauterbach’s proposed legalization model also includes removing cannabis from Germany’s narcotics list.
A prior leaked version of Lauterbach’s proposal involved THC percentage limits on products, but Minister Lauterbach indicated in his October 2022 presentation that THC limits would need to be researched further. Some of these provisions may have evolved during discussions between Minister Lauterbach and the European Union, although no one other than the parties involved in the discussions know.
The push for national legalization in Germany comes after a different European country, Malta, already passed a national adult-use legalization measure in late 2021. Malta was the first country in Europe to pass such a measure. Malta’s population and economy are tiny compared to Germany’s, yet the small island nation’s legalization model establishes various precedents that have undoubtedly benefitted Germany in its discussions with the European Union. This provides insight into what legalization could look like in Germany.
For starters, consumers in Malta of legal age can already possess up to seven grams of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants at their residence. Malta is also starting to accept license applications for nonprofit adult-use cannabis clubs. If Malta can proceed with implementing those legalization model components without the European Union stepping in to prevent it, then presumably Germany (and other European nations) can do the same.
Until a measure is formally introduced in Germany, there’s always the possibility that components of the measure could evolve. Components that were previously omitted in the October 2022 presentation could come back into the fray, such as THC percentage caps and social use licenses. Other components could be watered down a bit, such as the proposed 30-gram possession limit or the three plant cultivation limit being lowered.
It’s also quite possible that legalization in Germany could be rolled out in phases, with the first phase involving the removal of cannabis prohibition enforcement as it pertains to individuals, and the second phase involving the launch of a regulated industry. A two-phased approach certainly has its benefits: The first phase would be easy to implement and instantly save public resources in Germany, as well as prevent more lives from being harmed by prohibition. The second phase would involve the launch of a regulated industry—which is a much heavier public policy and regulatory lift—which could then proceed on its own timeline. As long as progress is being made on the industry launch effort, and there are no unreasonable delays, the two-phase approach could be viable.