In the weeds: Germany's plan to legalise cannabis in 2024 likely delayedComments
Germany's plans to legalise cannabis consumption in 2024 are looking increasingly unlikely as it has yet to submit its proposals to the European Commission, the health ministry confirmed to Euronews.
The ministry said in an email on Thursday that its draft law for the legalisation of cannabis is “currently being drafted” within the federal government.
“A large number of legal and operational questions concerning implementation need to be answered and coordinated between the ministries in charge” before it can be submitted to the European Commission, it added.
Berlin unveiled its bold project to legalise cannabis in October 2022. Under the plan, German consumers would be allowed to buy up to 30 grammes of cannabis for private consumption with supplies cultivated and distributed through a controlled market.
German adults would also be allowed to cultivate three cannabis plants each.
“The Federal Government’s aim of controlled dispensing is to best protect consumer health, ensure child and youth protection as well as to reduce drug-related crime and curtail the black market”, the German Federal Ministry of Health also told Euronews.
It’s an unprecedented project in the EU and it’s currently facing extreme scrutiny from Brussels, which has the power to break it or make it.
Where does Europe stand on weed legalisation?
Europe has long taken a conservative approach to the legalisation of weed. The drug is illegal to sell and consume across Europe, with the exception of Malta, where it became legal for personal use in 2021.
Several European countries, including Austria, the Netherlands and Portugal, have decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis. Luxembourg announced plans to legalise in 2018, but had to backtrack after coming up against EU laws. There’s a chance this could become Germany’s fate too.
While the Netherlands has become known for its relaxed attitude to smoking weed, with the government tolerating the sale of the drug in its “coffee shops”, its use and cultivation still remain illegal in wide society. Therefore, the Dutch model technically still respects EU law.
Germany’s plans could push the EU to change this history of cannabis conservatism, and if it manages to do so, other countries could quickly follow suit.
On its platform, the Finnish Green League Party said it will “utilise the experiences of Germany” for its weed policies in the future.
What are the next steps?
For now, Germany and the Commission are in preliminary discussions.
Berlin has proposed the paper to the European Commission for a pre-assessment and will only draft the law once the Commission sanctions the plan. German health minister Karl Lauterback said the legislation will only go ahead if it is compatible with EU law and that Berlin is committed to “individual changes/ updates at EU level” to accommodate its policy.
However, given Europe’s current geopolitical agenda, with a war in Ukraine and a cost of living crisis, the topic is unlikely to be given diplomatic priority.
Berlin’s liberalisation will not be straightforward. Germany is a member of Europe’s border-check-free Schengen Zone and currently, regulations prohibit the import of illegal drugs over European borders. Therefore, Germany will have to prove it can tightly monitor border crossings and not undermine its neighbour’s own drug policies.
By legalising recreational cannabis, Germany doesn’t only risk breaching EU law, but international law as well. The 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prohibits the legalisation of recreational cannabis, as it bans states from cultivating and trafficking cannabis outside of medical or scientific purposes.
To avoid breaching international law, Berlin could either withdraw from the convention, which could take up to a year, or choose to ignore it, like Canada, which has not faced any serious consequences for its cannabis policy to date.
Are there health concerns?
As well as legal and regulatory issues, Berlin will also need to address questions of public health - which are part of a long-standing debate.
Lauterbach said the focus of the legalisation would be the safety and protection of use as it would aim to “control quality, prevent trade of contaminated substances and guarantee the protection of minors”.
According to Lauterbach, four million people in Germany used cannabis in 2021 and a quarter of all 18-24-year-olds in the country have used it.
Therefore, he said that the protection of young people already buying the drug in black markets and using it in increasing numbers is justification for the proposed legislation.
Berlin is currently conducting an assessment of the impact of cannabis use in countries that have legalised the drug, with results expected early this year.
However, the EU’s own findings do demonstrate health risks. According to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, around 80,000 people entered specialised drug treatment in Europe for problems related to cannabis use in 2020, 43,000 for the first time.
Why is Europe re-evaluating its approach to weed?
A renewed debate about the laws prohibiting or permitting cannabis use and supply has been taking place around the world.
In the past decade, the drug has been legalised in Canada, Uruguay, 21 US states and most recently, Thailand. Now, Germany wants to legalise the whole value chain of cannabis production - from cultivation to the consumer.
The move was one of the key policies agreed upon by Germany’s coalition partners dubbed the “Traffic Light Coalition” - the Social Democrats, Greens and the liberal FDP - when they formed a government at the end of 2021.
Germany wants its policy to tie into EU law, Brussels will have to take a stance. Other EU countries - and the world - will be closely watching how this plays out.