Germany’s government on Wednesday approved a plan to liberalize rules on the use of cannabis, paving the way for the European Union’s most populous country to decriminalize possession of a certain amount of the substance and allow members of “cannabis clubs” to buy it for recreational purposes.
The bill is the first step of a two-part plan and must be approved by Parliament. But the approval by the government is part of a reform project of the coalition of center-left Social Democrats led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, although far from its original intention.
The draft law, which the government hopes to start implementing by the end of this year, provides that it will be legal to possess an amount of cannabis up to 25 grams and allow citizens to grow up to 3 cannabis roots themselves.
Residents of Germany who are over 18 will be allowed to be part of “cannabis clubs”, clubs with a maximum number of 500 members. The club will be allowed to grow cannabis for the personal use of its members.
Individuals will be allowed to purchase up to 25 grams of cannabis per day, or a maximum of 50 grams per month, this figure drops to 30 grams for individuals under the age of 21. Membership in more than one cannabis club will not be penalized.
The bill provides that the clubs’ expenses will be covered by membership fees, which will vary based on the amount of cannabis a member uses.
The government plans to ban the advertising or sponsorship of clubs and its consumption will be allowed at a distance of 200 meters from schools, playgrounds and sports facilities, or buildings near the cannabis club.
Local officials hope the plan will help protect consumers from contaminated products and reduce drug-related crime. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he expects that thanks to this mechanism “the price will be very competitive”, “which would lead to a pushback of the black market”.
Currently, “we have increased consumption, problematic consumption,” Minister Lauterbach told reporters. “It just can’t go on like this.”
The centre-right opposition argues that the government is pushing ahead with legalizing a dangerous drug despite European legal hurdles and expert opinion. An organization representing German judges says the plan is likely to increase, rather than reduce, the burden on the judicial system and could even increase demand for cannabis on the black market.
Even some cannabis advocates are not happy with the plan.
“The Ministry of Health is making adjustments. We are faced with a constant stigmatization of cannabis users and a narrow regulatory framework, which simply makes it impossible for many, many (cannabis clubs) to operate,” said Oliver Waack-Jürgensen. who runs the Berlin-based “cannabis social club” founded last year. He is also a board member of a national association representing such clubs.
Minister Lauterbach rejected the objections.
“The fact that it is being attacked by both sides is a good sign,” said the minister. He added that “the adoption of more facilities, as for example in the Netherlands or some American states, would have led to an increase in consumption”.
The law will be accompanied by a campaign aimed at sensitizing young people to the dangers of consuming cannabis.
The plan is a far cry from last year’s original version, which would have allowed the sale of cannabis to adults across the country at licensed outlets. The plan was revised after talks with the executive commission of the European Union.
In other countries in Europe, the rules on cannabis are different. The Netherlands combines decriminalization with little market regulation.
Dutch authorities tolerate the sale and consumption of small amounts of the substance in so-called cafes, but the production and sale of large quantities of cannabis, necessary to keep cafes supplied, remains illegal.
In Switzerland, authorities last year launched a pilot project that allows several hundred people in Basel to buy cannabis at pharmacies for recreational purposes.
The Czech government has been working on a plan similar to Germany’s to allow the sale and recreational use of cannabis, but it has not yet been finalized.
The capital of Denmark, Copenhagen, proposed the legalization of this substance, but the parliament rejected this initiative.
France has no plans to liberalize its strict rules on the use of cannabis.