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German goverment adopts watered-down cannabis legalisation bill

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The German government adopted a watered-down plan to legalise cannabis on Wednesday (16 August), moving one step closer to the substance’s controlled distribution, though critiques from judicial, medical and law enforcement associations persist.

The bill gives citizens the right to own up to three plants or 25g of the once-illicit substance, and create ‘social clubs’ to distribute the legalised high.

When the new German government took office in late 2021, legalising the consumption of cannabis was made a priority – both the Greens and the liberal FDP had made legalisation a key campaign promise to young voters.

Quickly, reality set in. Plans for a comprehensive framework were delayed for months, while the research arm of the Bundestag, the German parliament, raised concerns about the plan’s compatibility with EU law.

EU countries are obliged to ensure that drug-related offences are punishable, in line with the 2004 anti-drug trafficking regulation. The adopted legislation sought to make the law more compatible with EU obligations, although concerns remain.

Berlin wants to proceed nonetheless. “It’s a turnaround in drug policy,”Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) told journalists on Wednesday (16 August).

According to the draft law adopted by the government on Wednesday, possession of up to 25g of cannabis shall be legal. Up to three plants, yielding up to 600g annually, may be maintained for self-use.

Yet, unlike in most Western countries that enacted similar policies, the drug may not be sold in shops or specialised dispensaries. Instead, Germans can create “cannabis social clubs” that supply a maximum of 500 members with up to 50g of cannabis per month.

Lauterbach stressed that the government expects the clubs to be “competitive” with the black market, forcing it back “substantially”.

The law features special provisions to protect young adults from the impacts of cannabis consumption. For those below 21, cannabis club disbursements are capped at 30g. Clubs must maintain 200 metres distance from schools.

“Cannabis use by children and adolescents is very dangerous,” the minister said, highlighting that cannabis use resulted in lowered scholastic ambition and reduced rates of successfully graduating from high school.

Smoking up in the daytime will thus not be permitted near schools or in foot traffic zones. Similarly, the law is expected to put a cap on THC, the drug’s key active compound, to rein in high-potency strains.

Following its adoption in the government, the law must pass through parliament – a process that may yet result in further changes. The Bundestag is slated to discuss the law following its summer break, meaning that cannabis consumption could become legal in Germany within months.

Harsh criticism

Conservative politicians, medicinal professionals, judges, and law enforcement have strongly criticised the planned legalisation.

The draft law was not fit for purpose, said Sven Rebehn, head of the judges’ association. “In particular, the judiciary will not be relieved by the legislative plans, but rather additionally burdened,” he told RND.

Roman Poseck, the conservative justice minister in the German state Hessen, called the law a “lazy compromise” that produced “only losers”.

“It is more than questionable that the draft law is in conformity with European law,” he added.

The federation of German detectives noted that the law “does not go far enough”, adding that it is “also unusable due to violations of elementary principles of German law as well as questionable under constitutional law”, the association said in a statement.

Moreover, the German medical association warned in a statement that there is “no realistic expectation that the particularly vulnerable group of children and adolescents will be protected from access to cannabis”.

Even the FDP – part of the government coalition which approved the bill – signalled criticism. The law “remains clearly below expectations,” said the liberal party’s drug policy spokesperson, Kristine L?tke. The strict distance limit to schools made founding cannabis clubs “significantly more difficult”, she added in a statement.

[Edited by Giedr? Peseckyt?]

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