Regional Update – Cannabis Use Legalisation in Germany – A Damaging Option

On February 23rd, we were taken aback by the German Parliament’s decision to approve the legal use of cannabis. After two years of deliberations and despite voices raised involving experts such as doctors, physicians, and law enforcement, along with Ministers from various German States cautioning against the potential risks to youth and increased health concerns associated with cannabis use, the Governing Coalition proceeded with the politically-driven proposal.

This vote has sparked numerous questions and unclarities regarding the law’s details and its repercussions not only within Germany but also across the European Union. Therefore, we aim to provide an overview of the newly enacted regulations, their context, and the ramifications that they may entail.

In this newsletter, you will find a summary of the current situation and proposed legislation which includes important dates, and decisions. You will also find an article written by our European WFAD group of members working to advocate against the legalisation push in Europe, showcasing the overall implications and risks of cannabis legalisation for Germany and wider Europe. This article has also been shared with German Parliament members before the vote took place. Finally, we will share some tools that can be of interest when discussing these topics within your own countries.

On February 23rd, 2024, the German Bundestag approved to semi-legalise Cannabis from April 1st, 2024. The plan was presented, and adopted, by the Ampel Coalition (including the SPD (Social Democrats), die Grünen (the Greens), and FDP (liberals). The CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats) and the AFD (Right Wing) voted against the plan. Originally, the Ampel Coalition planned to fully liberalise Cannabis (use, cultivation, and trade) in Germany in 2023 latest. Due to opposition within Germany and the plans conflicting with European Regulations, the legalisation plans have been modified and its voting has been postponed several times. The recently adopted plans are orchestrated as a 2-pillar model. The first pillar will allow private cultivation for personal consumption (April 1, 2024) and non-commercial cultivation of cannabis in regulated cannabis clubs (July 2024). The second pillar will focus on pilots in which the commercial supply chain will be tested. These plans will be prepared during the implementation of pillar one and discussions with the EU are conducted.

What does the adopted plan entail? (1, 2)

From April 1st:

  • Cannabis is no longer considered an illegal substance in Germany and can be used legally.
  • Adults (18+) having officially resided in Germany for at least 6 months can cultivate up to 3 plants per adult in their home for personal use (One household with several adults is only allowed to plant up to three plants together)
  • Children and Youth should be protected from the at-home cultivated plants.
  • Adults (18+) can possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis for personal use at home (private sphere).
  • Adults (18+) can possess up to 25 grams of cannabis for personal use in a public environment.
  • The use of cannabis is allowed beyond 100 meters from schools, children and youth facilities, and public sports facilities.
  • No consumption is allowed in pedestrian zones between 7 am and 8 pm.

From July 1st (approximately):

  • Cannabis clubs are allowed to be established and opened in which non-commercial cultivation is allowed for members.
  • Cannabis clubs are not allowed to exceed 500 members which need to be German or habitual residents and their age needs to be verified.
  • Cannabis clubs can give up to 25 grams per day to their members or 50 grams per month.
  • For those between 18 and 21, 30 grams is allowed per month with a restricted THC amount of 10%.
  • State governments can limit the number of cultivation associations to one for every 6000 residents per district or independent city.
  • Cannabis clubs can provide 7 cannabis seeds or 5 cuttings per month to non-members (adults) for their private cultivation for their own consumption.
  • Information and advice can be provided at the clubs.

Cannabis will be made available for sale in licensed shops, such as pharmacies. However, it will only be offered in licensed shops in pilot regions at first while possessing and the use of cannabis will be legal from April 1st.

Generally, a prohibition of advertising and sponsorship for consumer cannabis and cultivation associations will be put in place. Additionally, the government plans to strengthen prevention through an awareness campaign on the effects and risks of cannabis. Legal cases related to
cannabis which are currently dealt with, will be reevaluated.

The current legalisation of medical cannabis remains the same and a prescription for medical cannabis will be required.

The legislation will be evaluated 3 times.

  • After the first 18 months, an evaluation will be made on the impacts on child and youth
    protection and the consumer behaviour of children and young people.
  • After the first two years, an interim report on the effects of the law, including the effects
    on cannabis-related organised crime, incorporating the expertise of the Federal Criminal
    Police Office will be published.
  • Finally, a comprehensive and final evaluation will be presented four years after the
    implementation date.

The Background of the Plan

The plans to legalise cannabis were presented in the coalition agreement in 2021 by the German Health Minister. The main argument for introducing the plan was to combat organised crime and protect the users, which number has seen an increase over the years. Before designing and presenting the draft legislation, the German Health Minister organised closed expert meetings to receive input. However, reports shared that the closed expert meetings were left with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, the Health Minister presented its plan on October 26th, 2022. The plan had been reduced in its ambition to fully legalise cannabis and its cultivation due to it disobeying International and European law (3).

The semi-legalisation plan, focusing on legalising the use of cannabis rather than its trade, was discussed by the German Parliament throughout 2023 and, initially, the vote was supposed to take place by the end of 2023 to legalise cannabis use by January 1st, 2024. The CDU/CSU, and particularly the Health Minister of the State of Bavaria (4), were critical towards the plan from the beginning and have spoken up against it various times. By the end of 2023, numerous experts, including the Professional Association of Pediatricians, Federal Medical Association, Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, and the Police Union, shared their criticism towards the plan and the increased risks society, particularly youth, would face if cannabis were to be legalised (5). It would not protect the youth, putting them at more risk towards cannabis exposure and dependency, rather than protecting them as had been argued by the coalition. It would also put more pressure on the already overburdened authorities to regulate the new legislation. Simultaneously, notable parliament members of the SDP (the leading party) openly shared their concerns about the plans and its lack of youth prevention (6, 7).

As a result, the vote got postponed to February 2024, to allow for more time for discussions (8). Observing the news, the open criticism from within the coalition caused tension between the SPD and the Grünen and FDP. After closed debates, the coalition showcased their unification once again towards the plans in February 2024. The only change presented was to add reviews after 1 and 2 years after implementation to reflect on the impact of legalisation on society (9). Discussions with parliament members showcased the sensitivity around the subject, especially related to the vulnerability of the coalition due to stark opinion differences.

The final public debate took part on February 21st and the final vote took part on February 23rd. (2) The discussions in the parliament showcased the sensitivity and emotions around the subject. In our observations, the arguments presented by the opposition were based on the concerns shared by the many expert organisations, focusing on youth, prevention, impaired driving, lack of control, additional burdens on the police, state, and judicial authorities, etc. The arguments presented by the coalition were mainly focused on the emotion of changing the future as the past did not work since an increase in use has been seen.

Generally, the German public has been divided and various opinion polls show a 50/50 percent division. Some of those in favour of legalisation have criticised the current plans and their inability and lack of proper supervision and control (10).

The political motivation of SPD, die Grünen, and FDP, to remain unified no matter what was reflected in the vote as from the 637 votes, 407 voted for, 226 voted against, and 4 abstained. On March 22nd, the Bundesrat (commission of German States) will have to vote on the legislation (2). They do not have the authority to dismiss the legislation, however, they can postpone the implementation date. Various Ministers from the German States have shared their criticism towards the politically motivated plan and the inability to properly implement the plan without putting youth at risk, normalising the drug, adding additional challenges to the already heavily strained police and judicial system, and staggering the fight against organised crime (11, 12).

Which impact will the adoption have on Germany and beyond?

It is unfortunate to see that the Right of the Child to be protected from [the use of] drugs (13) was ignored due to a politically motivated decision. The semi-legalisation plan is highly concerning and will present many challenges within Germany and beyond. Almost all points in the plan are questionable and are expected to lead to an increased risk of cannabis exposure and use among youth rather than a reduction, which was used as one of the main arguments by the Ampel coalition.

While the plan does include an awareness-raising campaign initiative to prevent drug use among children, the general budget for prevention has seen an immense cut and would most probably impact the ability to develop and implement the campaign. Additionally, an awareness-raising campaign is not enough to avoid cannabis exposure among children and youth. Research showcases that prevention requires systematic long-term investments in early prevention activities and intervention, focusing on universal as well as selective programmes including family-, school-, media-, and community-based prevention, environmental prevention, and age-appropriate and gender-sensitive prevention (14, 15). Legalising cannabis feeds into the current trend of normalising the drug, which has already globally led to an increase in use among youth (16) and will continue to do so. Since it is legalised, the risk perception of its use will decrease. Besides this, as seen with alcohol, it is usually generally easy for youth to access a substance underage through friends or a lack of control when it is legalised.

Furthermore, the possibility of consuming cannabis at home and planting 3 plants per household increases the risks of exposure for the child to cannabis drastically. Whereas the plan does include the need to protect the child from cannabis and its derivatives, it will be impossible to
regulate this, as was stated by the police.

Other rules that the police have shared their criticism on and consider a burden to their work will be the need to regulate the smoking of cannabis within 100 meters from schools, children and youth facilities, and public sports facilities, increasing the risk of exposure to cannabis among children, as well as impaired driving, increasing the risks of traffic accidents.

Additionally, the aimed decrease of organised crime by legalising cannabis would not occur anytime soon. The plans include the setup of Cannabis Clubs from July 1st, which would allow German residents to become members and buy legal cannabis to no longer have to rely on the black market and receive products that have been tampered with. Nevertheless, the use of cannabis will become legal from April 1st. Even if the Cannabis Clubs would be allowed to start from July 1st (as delays in the plan are expected), no legal cannabis would be ready by then. This creates a gap from April 1st until the opening of the Cannabis clubs which leads to encouragement to the public to purchase cannabis from the black market. Besides this, those who are unable to become a member of the Cannabis Clubs or would like to purchase cheaper products will continue to revert to the black market.

Furthermore, the public will be allowed to carry 25 grams of cannabis in public and keep 50 grams in private sphere. These numbers are grand, and it would be difficult for the police to determine whether the person is carrying the cannabis for personal use or for sale (for reference, the amount of cannabis allowed in the Netherlands is 5 grams per person).

Generally, the approval of the semi-legalisation plans in Germany will most probably cause a wave in Europe. Its approval and the inadequate response or ignorance from the European Union showcase the ability of other countries to follow Germany’s lead. Countries, such as the Czech
Republic, has already shared its interest in starting the legalisation discussions based on the results in Germany. This trend is concerning and data from various countries and states in which cannabis has been legalised for various years, have showcased that use of cannabis has
increased rather than reduced (17).

Hence, we call for the German Bundesrat to vote against the plan and postpone its implementation date to an undefined date to protect the youth and not allow organised crime to flourish.

For more information regarding the negative implications of Cannabis on Public Health and Youth, Read our White Guide.

Do note that more references have been used, however, the most important articles have been included in the reference list.


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