Five Questions about Cannabis Legalization Germany Must Answer
Find out where Germany stands in their quest to open up fully legal adult-use.
In June, Germany started a five-day series of hearings on precisely how the country would open up its society to a fully legal adult-use cannabis regime. Up next: the waiting game, and some important decisions that the country will need to make on how to improve upon the work-in-progress that is the international cannabis industry so far.
Given Germany’s status within the European Union, their moves will be heavily scrutinized, and it’s clear that the Bundestag knows it. A month after the hearings, Germany participated in a multilateral meeting with representatives from Malta, which has already legalized adult-use cannabis, and Luxembourg, which has decriminalized possession, and is in the process of determining the contours of its own adult-use industry. While no specific binding resolutions were passed during the meeting, all of the nations gathered agreed that “the status quo is not an option,” to quote Luxembourg Minister of Justice Sam Tanson. As for what the new normal will be instead, here’s what is known — and not known — so far about the biggest questions hovering over what will be an industry potentially worth over €5 billion when it’s finally up and running.
When Will it Happen?
The best estimates are for a draft bill to be unveiled by the end of 2022 at the latest, the earliest in the fall. The bill will have to clear not only the Bundestag but also the Bundesrat, which consists of representatives from all 16 federal German states. This is largely held by Christian Democrats, which have historically opposed cannabis. However, even they have softened on the issue. However, their own views will eventually shape the final legislation, and once it’s finally agreed to, the bill should be law in 2023. MP Dirk Heidenblut put the final emergence of cannabis at some point in 2024 at the earliest, meaning that Germans will be halfway through the decade before they can get legal cannabis without a doctor’s prescription.
What About the UN Treaties?
Like many of the largest economies on earth, Germany is a signatory to several UN drug treaties, most notably the 1961 Single Convention Treaty, which forbade cannabis for all but scientific and medical uses. So is Uruguay and Canada, and they continue to be in circumvention of this treaty with no repercussions. However, Germany is a country that tends to follow the letter of the law, which means that they will most likely drop out of the treaty, legalize and then re-enter under an exception for cannabis. This was the path Bolivia took when it legalized coca leaves. Germany may also use the opportunity to argue for an update of a treaty that is over 60 years old, and ill-suited for a world that is shifting away from Prohibition.
Where will we get all the Cannabis?
Germany imports much of its medical cannabis — about 85% of it — from Canada mostly, which is legal under the Single Convention Treaty. But of course, adult-use cannabis isn’t, which may be one of the issues Germany takes up with the UN and the EU in the years to come. This would mean that Germany would have to grow the cannabis itself — up to 400 tons for four million consumers, to say nothing of the inevitable tourism that will kick off once it finally starts up. This, of course, will require an estimated 1.5-2 years to build up the infrastructure.
How will we Keep Kids from Accessing It?
Like most countries, Germany wants to strike a blow to illegal trade, and it must determine how to adequately price and distribute cannabis so that drug dealers are put out of business. Some argue for eCommerce, which is disputed by others — only face-to-face sales, they assert, will prevent cannabis from directly being sold to minors. However, depending on how the roll-out is initiated, dealers may end up being pushed into areas where access is poor, thereby defeating the larger point of legalization in the first place. “We have to make sure [our states] cannot take a different route when it comes to cannabis, that this is on a federal level and that it is a national law,” says Niklas Kouparanis, CEO of medical cannabis holding company Bloomwell Group. “That is important so we avoid a fragmented market.”
What Sort of Example will Germany set for the rest of Europe?
Malta may have been the first to legalize, but Germany is expected to be the bellwether for what a legal industry in the EU should look like. The cannabis reform summit with Luxembourg and Malta will be the first of many, with a growing league of reform-minded states sharing best practices with each other. “European countries that have a much bigger problem with illegal cannabis use, like France, are watching very closely what Germany is doing at the moment,” Justus Haucap of the Dusseldorf Institute for Competition Economics recently told The Guardian. Should it succeed, Germany might end up showing even the early adopters in North America how it’s done, and signal a shift in the ever-evolving cannabis industry’s center of gravity. But time will tell.