Germany Begins the Process to Officially Legalize Weed
Health officials began their first hearings on adult-use cannabis legalization this week, and hope to arrive at a finished piece of legislation by the end of this year
Published on June 15, 2022

German health officials just kicked off a series of discussions that will inform the country’s new adult-use cannabis legalization bill, which lawmakers hope to introduce later this fall.

This week, the German health ministry began a series of expert hearings to address the health and safety regulations that will govern the new adult-use industry. To this end, officials will meet with over 200 medical, legal, government, and other representatives, along with international experts on cannabis reform. This first of these meetings took place this week, and officials hope to wrap four more meetings by the end of the month.

Germany's new ruling coalition initially announced plans to legalize adult-use cannabis sales shortly after winning the general election last fall. At the time, officials announced that they would allow licensed stores to sell legal weed to adults, and that the effectiveness of the policy would be evaluated after four years. Last month, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach announced that he hoped to have the draft of the new adult-use bill completed by this fall.

Stakeholders from nearly every industry are already offering their opinions on what rules and regulations should make it into the final draft. Most authorities already agree that sales should be restricted to adults aged 21 or older, even though the country's legal drinking age is only 16. The German Medical Association suggested that they would prefer to move that age limit up to 25, but 21 is the most likely compromise.

Insiders are also wondering how Germany's thriving medical cannabis industry will be impacted by adult-use sales. At present, medical marijuana can only be sold at licensed pharmacies, so pharmacists are hoping to call dibs on adult-use sales as well. 

“If cannabis is to be sold in pharmacies for consumption purposes, then it should only be sold in pharmacies,” said the Federal Association of German Pharmacists in a statement, POLITICO reports. “With different distribution channels, it will be difficult to enforce uniform, high consumer-protection standards.”

Other industry leaders disagree, though, and many hope to see the country authorize licensed adult-use shops like those seen in Canada and the US. “Pharmacies are there to sell medicines,” Georg Wurth of the German Hemp Association told POLITICO. “Otherwise, they would consequently have to include beer and cigarettes in their assortment too.”

The country's current medical marijuana law requires all medical cannabis plants to be grown inside fortress-like buildings with concrete walls and little access to natural light. It’s unclear if those same regulations would apply to recreational pot, but Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, vice chair of the parliamentary health committee, has already argued that “it is neither sensible nor sustainable to grow hemp and cannabis exclusively in indoor plantations behind thick concrete walls.”

The health ministry will also need to decide whether they want to cap the total THC levels contained in legal weed products, and if so, by how much. The German Medical Association has suggested imposing a THC cap of 10% to 15% on all products, but this restrictive cap would make it difficult for the legal market to compete with higher-potency black market bud. 

There is also one major roadblock that could interfere with the country's plans. The United Nations and the European Union both explicitly prohibit member nations from legalizing cannabis. Canada legalized weed back in 2018, though, and has not received a single sanction from the UN for doing so. Conservative German politicians may also have a shot at derailing the proposed legalization plans as well.

If all of these issues are eventually sorted out, Germany's adult-use market could boost the country's economy by over $5 billion a year and create around 27,000 new jobs, according to one recent study. At present, the tiny country of Malta is the only European nation to have actually legalized weed, although both Switzerland and the Netherlands have dipped their toes in the water with temporary legalization pilot programs.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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