25th November 2021
Yesterday, the new German coalition Government confirmed that it intends to legalise and regulate cannabis for non-medical (recreational) adult use.
The widely trailed announcement was formalised in the coalition treaty, which states that (our translation):
“We will introduce the controlled supply of Cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed shops. That way we will control quality, constrain the distribution of adulterated substances and ensure the protection of minors. The social impacts of the new legislation will be evaluated after four years. We will also enable and expand models of drug checking and harm reduction.
In alcohol and nicotine prevention, we are focusing on increased education with a particular focus on children, young people and pregnant women. We are tightening regulations on marketing and sponsorship for alcohol, nicotine and cannabis. We constantly measure regulations against new scientific findings and align health protection measures with them”
While there are inevitably many details to be worked out, the signs here are positive; the emphasis on licensing, quality control, scientific evaluation, protection of youth, and controls on marketing all point to a more thoughtful regulatory model in line with much of what Transform has long advocated. The endorsement of drug checking is also very welcome - alongside a restatement of Germany’s long standing commitment to harm reduction.
Politically it is hard to overstate how significant this development is for European and, indeed, global drug law reform. EU cannabis reform has been smoldering away for a number of years - with significant shifts in public and media debate, but relatively little actual legislative reform. Recent reforms in the US, Mexico and Canada do, however, seem to have catalysed the European reform debate - giving political actors the impetus to move from simply talking about reform to actually developing and implementing it. In the past, for example, the Netherlands took considerable diplomatic heat from the US for its cannabis coffeeshop model; something that now is impossible given the proliferation of US state level legalisation. The change from the US being a prohibitionist bully on the international stage, to being a crucible of global cannabis reforms (now with rival Democrat and Republican bills vying to legalise cannabis at a federal level) has undoubtedly changed the international cannabis reform landscape.
In the EU, cannabis reform has moved from being a political liability to a political asset. In a relatively short space of time we have seen real reforms moving forward in multiple states - including legally regulated markets being rolled out in Luxembourg and Switzerland, legal production for the coffeeshops in the Netherlands, and legalisation of personal home growing in Malta. Spain, Italy, and Denmark are not far behind, and reform debate is even progressing in more historically conservative France (and, you can whisper it, yes, the UK).
It has long seemed likely that reform in one of the major EU powers, now in conjunction with imminent US Federal legalisation, would create a domino effect. This week’s announcement, establishing the world’s largest domestic cannabis market, surely marks that moment. We could well see 10 EU states with legal cannabis markets within the next 5 to 10 years.
This would inevitably force change at both the EU and UN level. The global consensus maintaining cannabis prohibition under the UN drug treaties is not just looking frayed, it is now dust in the wind. With US federal reform imminent, three G7 countries will have legalised cannabis, and if we include Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay and beyond; more than half a billion people will live in legal cannabis jurisdictions.
But Germany will face major policy challenges in the coming months. It is not enough to simply legalise; the regulation must be fit for purpose if they are to meet the aspirations in the text of the coalition treaty. History shows the devil is very much in the detail. It is vital that Germany does not repeat mistakes made with alcohol and tobacco policy, and learns from the successes and failures of other places that have legalised.
That public health and well being goals are prioritised over business or state tax objectives, with particular attention to mitigating risks of corporate capture, market monopolisation and over-commercialisation (the hedge fund vultures are already circling)
That social justice objectives are hardwired into the policy design from the outset - with meaningful equity programs that support communities most impacted historically by cannabis prohibition, who must also participate as key stakeholders in the policy design process
That the toxic legacy of criminalisation be addressed through a comprehensive program of automatic and complete expungement of criminal records for cannabis related offences
That the international development dimension of cannabis markets is not overlooked - with consideration for traditional producers and suppliers in the Global South
That the emerging markets are carbon neutral and set a new standard for environmentally sustainability
This may well mark the moment that the tide finally turns on the global system of cannabis prohibition. If Germany can make this happen, and do it in a way that really promotes public health and social justice, then it could be a beacon for Europe and the rest of the world. The UK must not be left behind.
The newly updated 3rd edition of 'How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide' is out now! You can purchase the hard copy for only £15 or access online for free.
Image credit: Transnational Institute