‘Cannabis in Germany will be a success story’: Europe’s biggest economy moves closer to weed legalization

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‘Cannabis in Germany will be a success story’: Europe’s biggest economy moves closer to weed legalization
08-Apr-23 04:55:31

  • Germany is expected to introduce a bill in the coming weeks which, if passed, would greenlight the consumption and sale of cannabis in Europe’s largest economy.
  • Health Minister Karl Lauterbach last week said that his plans received “very good feedback” from the European Commission.
  • “We need examples like Germany, like Europe, to show that society will not collapse if you make it legal,” Steffen Geyer, director of THR Berlin-based Hanf Museum, told CNBC.

BERLIN — Germany could be weeks away from introducing a bill to legalize cannabis under sweeping reforms that would greenlight the consumption and sale of the drug in Europe’s largest economy.

Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach last week said that the plans had received “very good feedback” from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, adding that the bill could be announced by the end of March or in early April.

“We will soon present a proposal that works, that is, that conforms to European law,” Lauterbach said, following months of talks with Brussels.

The government published draft proposals for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in October, which it said aimed to improve public health. Lauterbach insisted that they would only progress to the Bundestag — Germany’s federal parliament — if the initiatives are compatible with EU law.

Under the plans, cannabis would no longer be classed as a narcotic, and citizens over 18 would be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of the drug for personal use. Consumers would also be free to grow up to three plants at home, and licensed stores and pharmacies would be able to sell cannabis products.

May 1 will be seen as the day Germany legalized cannabis.

If approved by parliament, the bill could be implemented in phases between now and mid-2024. It would make Germany the world’s largest regulated national cannabis market and the first country in the EU to permit its commercial sale — with potentially sweeping implications for the bloc.

In the Netherlands, a country widely associated with legal weed-smoking, the growth and sale of the drug to its so-called coffee shops is technically criminalized, though tolerated. While in other countries, such as Malta, legalization is limited.

“If I can trust my sources in the government, the first change will come in May,” said Steffen Geyer, director of Hanf Museum, a Berlin-based hemp museum which he described as being “the heart of the German legalization movement for the past 30 years.”

“May 1 [2023] will be seen as the day Germany legalized cannabis [for personal use],” Geyer told CNBC, noting that commercial legalization would likely follow next year. “Cannabis in Germany will be a success story, I’m sure. The future’s green.”

‘The future’s green’

Cannabis legalization is one of a series of socially progressive policies proposed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party “traffic light” coalition government, which entered into power in 2021 after 16 years of conservative rule.

Around 4 million people in Germany used cannabis in 2021, and a quarter of all 18- to 24-year-olds in the country have tried it, according to Lauterbach, who said that the purpose of the changes was to increase public oversight and reduce drug-related crime.

“The government right now is by far the most open about this topic,” said Martin Chodorowski, account manager at Tom Hemp’s, a Berlin-based Cannabidiol (CBD) retailer.

CBD is an active, but non-addictive, ingredient in cannabis, derived from the hemp plant. Its sale has been legal in Germany since 2017, provided that the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content — the main psychoactive part of cannabis — is below 0.2%. Meantime, the sale of other weed products is prohibited.

“The chances for us as a German company are the highest they’ve been in a decade,” said Chodorowski, who welcomed the prospect of a more stable framework for suppliers and consumers of cannabis products.

It is estimated that legalizing the drug could create 27,000 new jobs and bring in an additional 4.7 billion euros ($5 billion) per year in tax revenues, social security contributions and criminal prosecution savings, according to a 2021 study from the Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf.

“This is the most boring revolution you will ever recognize,” said Geyer, adding that new job creation could be closer to 35,000. “People are just trying to be normal. These jobs are already done today, but without paying taxes, without paying social security.”

EU regulatory challenges

The government has a fine line to tread in producing a bill that adheres to EU laws, international drug treaties, and public health concerns.

Europe has long taken a conservative approach to the legalization of weed, and EU regulation requires member states to ensure that the sale of illicit drugs including cannabis is “punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties.”

The plans would also be incompatible with international treaties, including the U.N.’s 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs, although countries like Canada and Uruguay have faced no serious consequences since moving to legalize the drug.