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This blog was updated on 22nd March 2024.

Summary: Germany has voted to decriminalise cannabis possession and home growing for personal use, and also legally regulate supply in the form of non-profit membership based associations. This significant step builds upon the growing momentum across Europe and globally to move away from the failings of prohibition.

Approx. reading time: 4 mins

Germany set another landmark moment for cannabis reforms by making 80 million citizens of a country with regulated legal access to cannabis. This follows on from Malta’s recent establishment of a cannabis market (through non-profit membership associations), Luxembourg legalising possession and home growing, and ‘research pilots’ of legal retail sales in the Netherlands and Switzerland. These European countries have become the new leaders in ending the historic failings of prohibition, with Germany the most politically significant yet.

Transform has supported these reform processes over recent years, acting in an advisory role for the Luxembourg and Maltese Governments, and through ongoing engagement with senior policymakers in Germany, Czechia, and Switzerland. Our efforts continue to support and inform the development of cannabis policies throughout Europe that centre public health and social justice. Last year, the newly updated third edition of Transform's cannabis regulation guide was translated into German and distributed to key policymakers.

What are the cannabis reforms happening in Germany?

After several years of debate and political wrangling, Germany has voted to legalise cannabis with a significant majority. The process was two-fold, first with the Lower House (the Bundestag) passing the Cannabis Reform Act (407 to 226), and then the Upper House (the Bundesrat) voting in favour 50 to 16. The new Act decriminalises possession of up to 25g of cannabis (50g at home), allows for private cultivation of up to three cannabis plants for personal use, and establishes a framework for licensed not-for-profit membership-based associations (also known as Cannabis Social Clubs) to grow and supply cannabis amongst their members (max 500 per association).

What is the timeline for the new law?

The law will come into force on April 1st. Following the first vote by the Bundestag last month, there was a second vote on 22nd March in Germany’s Bundesrat, that represents the 16 German Lander (the sub-national jurisdictions under Germany’s federal government). Some of these more conservative regional Governments, notably Bavaria, have been opposed to the reform and risked holding up the process. A particular issue had been raised by regional justice ministries regarding the law’s requirement to delete previous criminal records for cannabis (offence expungement), with concerns that the process may overburden their judicial systems. The opposition wanted to establish a ‘mediation committee’ between upper and lower chambers to discuss possible changes to the law which put the expungement element at risk - this would have been a huge blow to ensuring justice for those affected by prohibition. However, today the law was passed without obstacle, explicitly stating that cannabis reform must legally be accompanied by the removal of previous criminal records.

The worst case scenario was a longer delay, pushing the reform beyond next year’s general election which, should the current coalition dissolve and the Christian Democrats (who opposed the reform) win, could potentially lead to it being abandoned or, if already passed, repealed.

How does the new law differ from previous plans?

The German Government’s initial reform proposals included a regulated commercial retail market (similar to the model established in Canada), alongside home growing provisions and the membership based cannabis associations. The Government coalition’s Free Democratic Party was particularly keen to promote the economic opportunities of a commercial model. These plans were, however, curtailed by restrictions imposed by both the UN international drug control treaties and EU laws which currently do not allow commercial production and retailing of cannabis for non-medical uses. While some countries have progressed reforms despite the UN treaty prohibitions, the EU restrictions are a more immediate obstacle, involving direct political consequences and tensions with EU neighbours, as well as potentially more serious and enforceable sanctions.

What’s coming next?

Despite their initial aspirations for a commercial retail market, Germany has now followed Malta in adopting a more restricted non-commercial approach - a pattern also being followed, for the time being at least, by Luxembourg and Czechia. The German Government has announced a plan (yet to be formally drafted and agreed) for a second phase of reforms that will involve a time limited ‘experiment’ with retail sales (similar to ongoing ‘experiments’ in the Netherlands and Switzerland) in a number of municipalities. It is proposed that because these are ‘scientific research’ projects, rather than formal changes to the law, they will be able to finesse the EU and international UN prohibitions - although this has yet to be formally tested. There is no timescale for this ’experiment’ announced yet.

Why are Germany’s reforms so important?

Germany’s key role within European politics and its authority on the world stage mean this is a particularly important moment; a genuinely historic step forward for EU and global reform. While some business interests are disappointed with the non-commercial model in the short term, the German reforms offer an opportunity for the non-profit model to become established and prove its merits. Home growing and non-profit associations will, however, be unlikely to meet all of Germany’s demand; non-residents, for example, will not have access to any form of legal supply. So in the longer term, a regulated commercial retail model looks like an inevitable step, once the various international legal obstacles can be negotiated. Germany is uniquely well positioned to assume a leadership role in achieving the necessary change in international law and continuing the accelerating pace of change around the world.

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