Germany’s Cabinet has recently approved a plan to relax regulations on cannabis, paving the way for the decriminalization of limited possession and the establishment of “cannabis clubs” for recreational use. Although the legislation still requires approval from the Parliament, this move represents a significant advancement for a reform project championed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s socially liberal coalition, albeit falling short of its initial objectives.
Under the proposed bill, possession of up to 25 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of cannabis for recreational purposes would be legalized, while individuals would also be permitted to cultivate up to three plants for personal use. Moreover, German residents aged 18 and older would have the opportunity to join nonprofit “cannabis clubs” encompassing a maximum of 500 members each, which could cultivate cannabis exclusively for their members’ personal consumption.
Interested individuals would be able to purchase up to 25 grams per day or a maximum of 50 grams per month, with restrictions imposed on individuals under the age of 21 limiting the monthly maximum to 30 grams. However, membership in multiple clubs would be prohibited. The cost of operating the clubs would be covered by membership fees, adjusted based on the quantity of cannabis used by each member.
In order to ensure public safety and minimize drug-related crimes, the government intends to forbid the advertisement or sponsorship of cannabis and cannabis clubs. Additionally, consumption would be prohibited within approximately 200 yards of schools, playgrounds, sports facilities, and the premises of the cannabis clubs.
Advocates of this plan anticipate that it will enhance consumer protection against contaminated products and help curb the illicit drug market. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach expressed confidence in the implementation of this system, stating that it would result in “very competitive” prices and effectively challenge the black market’s dominance. Lauterbach further emphasized the necessity of change, citing increasing and problematic consumption patterns that cannot be sustained.
However, opposition from the center-right argues that the government is taking a risk by legalizing a potentially hazardous drug, despite potential obstacles from European legislation and expert opinions. An organization representing German judges argues that the plan may burden the judicial system further and even lead to an increase in demand for black-market cannabis.
Interestingly, even some advocates of cannabis legalization are dissatisfied with the current proposal. Oliver Waack-Juergensen, who heads the Berlin-based “cannabis social club” known as High Ground, criticized the health minister’s approach, asserting that it involves excessive regulation, perpetuates stigma around cannabis users, and places cumbersome restrictions on cannabis clubs, fundamentally impeding their operations.
Minister Lauterbach, however, brushed off these objections, framing the pushback from both sides as a positive sign. He argued that a more liberal approach akin to that of the Netherlands or certain American states would have facilitated an increase in consumption. Those opposing any form of legalization, Lauterbach claimed, fail to address the issues of rising consumption, crime, and an expanding black market.
The German government intends to launch a campaign alongside this legislation, aiming to raise awareness among young people about the potential risks associated with cannabis consumption. Following the passage of the new laws, the government plans to advance to the next stage: conducting five-year trials of regulated commercial supply chains in selected regions, with subsequent scientific evaluation.
While the current legislation falls short of the original proposal, which envisioned the sale of cannabis to adults nationwide through licensed establishments, it was scaled back after discussions with the European Commission. Varying approaches to cannabis regulation are evident across Europe, with the Netherlands combining decriminalization with limited market regulation. Although small quantities of cannabis can be sold and consumed at “coffeeshops,” large-scale production and distribution remain illegal, prompting increased regulation in Amsterdam.
In Switzerland, authorities have implemented an experimental pilot project in Basel, allowing a few hundred individuals to purchase cannabis from pharmacies for recreational use. Similarly, the Czech government has been developing a plan akin to Germany’s, proposing the legalization and recreational use of cannabis, although the details have yet to be finalized.
Denmark’s proposal to legalize cannabis in Copenhagen has been rejected by parliament, while France currently has no plans to loosen its strict regulations on the substance.
The Cabinet’s approval of the cannabis liberalization plan in Germany represents a significant step forward for drug policy reform in the country. As the legality of cannabis becomes a reality, it is crucial to strike a balance between regulation and personal freedom, ensuring the protection and well-being of consumers while minimizing the influence of the black market.