Lawmakers in Germany took comments from experts Monday during a parliamentary Health Committee hearing on the government’s proposal to legalize marijuana in the country. They also considered an alternative plan that would focus instead on reducing cannabis consumption through education and public health measures.
The legalization measure, spearheaded by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, would allow adults to legally possess cannabis and cultivate a maximum of three plants for personal use. It would also create social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members. Officials have said a forthcoming second phase of legalization will eventually launch a pilot program for regulated commercial sales of cannabis.
“With this draft law from the federal government, we can contribute to improved health protection, strengthen cannabis-related education and prevention and curb the illegal market for cannabis while at the same time strengthening the protection of children and young people,” Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, a Green Party lawmaker, said at the start of the meeting, according to a translation.
“The federal government states that current developments show that the consumption of cannabis, despite the existing prohibition rules, is increasing, particularly among young people,” Kappert-Gonther said. “Cannabis that is purchased on the black market is often associated with a higher health risk because the THC content is unknown to those who consume it and it contains toxic impurities and synthetic cannabinoids that can be very dangerous and whose effects are not estimated by those who consume them.”
The measure had its first reading on the floor of the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, last month. After Monday’s committee hearing, it’s scheduled to return to the full chamber for a second and third (final) reading on November 16, at which point lawmakers will vote on formally enacting the legislation into law.
The Green Party said on social media that comments from experts in committee “will promote improvements in the law” as it makes its way through the legislature.
In addition to considering the legalization legislation, lawmakers on Monday also heard a competing proposal from The Union, a political alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). That measure would not legalize marijuana but instead is meant to “improve health protection and strengthen education, prevention and research,” Kappert-Gonther said.
A number of groups have come out against legalization, including the Federal Medical Association, German Association of Judges and police and medical organizations. They were among nearly three dozen institutions and individuals who submitted statements ahead of Monday’s hearing.
The German Association of Judges, for example, said in written testimony that “the assessment underlying the draft that it would significantly reduce the burden on the judiciary is incorrect,” because the legalization proposal still includes offenses for cannabis sales, international importation and other activity.
As currently written, the legalization proposal would create social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members, with purchase limits for people over the age of 21 of 25 grams of cannabis per day—up to a total of 50 grams per month. People between 18 and 21, meanwhile, would be subject to a lower monthly limit of 30 grams.
Facilities could not be located within 200 meters of a school, and each jurisdiction could have only one club for every 6,000 residents. Clubs would be limited to 500 members and would need a a social club permit, which would be valid for up to seven years with the possibility of receiving an extension. Membership to the clubs would have to last at least two months under the draft bill.
A summary of the legislation also outlines estimates of the costs of implementing and regulating the program, as well as savings from reduced enforcement and new revenue that’s expected to be created through wage taxes from people working at cannabis clubs.
Much of the pushback on Monday came from physicians’ groups, including the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine and the Federal Medical Association. The former group said, for example, that while the proposed reform would not allow minors to access marijuana, it’s not apparent the protective measures are sufficiently enforceable to prevent youth access.
The Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, for their part, was also skeptical. The group called for strict youth protections and said it’s unclear whether decriminalization would sufficiently address stigma such that people with substance use disorders could seek support earlier.
Others, including the German Bar Association and New Judges’ Association, have expressed support for the reform. “A criminalization of the possession of cannabis for self-consumption can no longer be justified,” said the New Judges’ Association, which consists of reform-minded judges and prosecutors.
At the same time, the New Judges’ Association suggested improvements to the bill. The group noted that it could be difficult for consumers to know if they’re within a proposed 200-meter ban zone around sensitive areas like schools, children’s and youth facilities and sports facilities. It also said that the proposal’s 25-gram limit on cannabis possession could accidentally criminalize people who grow marijuana at home and end up with more than the limit.
The Federal Association for Accepting Drug Work and Humane Drug Policy, meanwhile, supports the reforms but criticized a provision in the legalization proposal that would ban consumption in cultivation associations. It also said that the permission reservation of the health insurance companies should be abolished, which a summary of the comments says “was also demanded by other experts in the hearing.”
Ahead of last month’s meeting on the legislation, the Union urged lawmakers to halt movement toward cannabis legalization, which it said leads the country “the wrong direction” and will increase cannabis use.
Another motion, from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party says lawmakers should instead focus on medical marijuana, which it says “enjoys a good reputation among the population.” The party argued the Bundestag should give up on adult-use legalization and instead draft a new law to fold medical marijuana into a national health care law, which would better address the “benefits and risks in an open-ended manner” and could lower costs for patients.
The readings are taking place following a failed effort by opponents in September to block the measure in Germany’s legislative body representing individual states, called the Bundesrat.
In a statement, the Bundestag noted that state representatives are concerned about “high financial consequences for the states due to control and enforcement as well as prevention and intervention tasks” with “control of cultivation associations is given as an example.”
But the federal government “does not share” the Bundesrat’s concerns, it said. In fact, it added, “the federal government expects high savings from the federal states through fewer criminal complaints and fewer criminal proceedings. The saved funds could be used for monitoring the cultivation associations as well as for addiction prevention.”
Officials are also planning to introduce a complementary second measure that would establish pilot programs for commercial sales in cities throughout the country. That legislation is expected to be unveiled after its submitted to the European Commission for review.
The measure as previously described by officials would allow cannabis sales at retailers in select jurisdictions as part of the pilot program that would allow the country to assess further reform over five years. Specifically, officials would study the impact of the shops on consumption trends and the illicit market. Localities would need to opt in to allow the stores to operate.
The legalization measure is being spearheaded by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who first shared details about the revised legalization plan in April. The next month, he distributed the legislative text to cabinet officials.
Lauterbach responded to early criticism of the bill from medical and law enforcement groups by emphasizing that the reform will be coupled with a “major campaign” to educate the public about the risks of using cannabis.
Formal legislation detailing the government’s previously announced framework was initially set to be released by the end of the first quarter of 2023, but that timeline was extended “due to scheduling reasons” as officials worked to revise it in order to avoid a potential conflict with international laws.
Lawmakers who have pushed the government for far-reaching cannabis legalization policies reacted mostly positively to the government’s April announcement spelling out certain policy proposals, though some did point out areas they’d like to see improved.
The health minister said in March that German officials had received “very good feedback” from the EU on the prior reform framework.
Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the initial framework for a legalization measure late last year, but the government wanted to get sign-off from the EU to ensure that enacting the reform wouldn’t put them in violation of their international obligations.
The framework was the product of months of review and negotiations within the German administration and the country’s “traffic light” coalition government. Officials took a first step toward legalization last summer, kicking off a series of hearings meant to help inform legislation to end prohibition in the country.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, visited the U.S. and toured California cannabis businesses last year to inform their country’s approach to legalization.
The visit came about two months after top officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands held a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss plans and challenges associated with recreational marijuana legalization.
Leaders of the coalition government said in 2021 that they had reached an agreement to end cannabis prohibition and enact regulations for a legal industry, and they first previewed certain details of that plan last year.