GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 860, 9 April 2024

Germany legalises cannabis: Is it a step in the right direction?
Rosemary Kurian

EM Daily Focus
By Rosemary Kurian

Germany legalises cannabis. Is it a step in the right direction?

What is the bill about?
On 23 February, the German Bundestag passed the cannabis decriminalisation bill that allows the recreational use of cannabis. The decriminalisation is part of a two-pronged approach towards marijuana consumption in Germany. It partially legalises the consumption and home cultivation of cannabis for adults alongside allowing non-profit “cannabis clubs” to supply up to 500 members in small quantities in two phases. The legislation bans consuming and advertising closer to schools and playgrounds to prevent impact on minors. Adults in Germany can possess 25 grams of cannabis in public and 50 grams privately, while also being able to cultivate up to three plants at their homes.

Why did Germany legalise cannabis consumption?
According to Karl Lauterbach, Germany’s Health Minister, it is aimed to reduce burden on law enforcement and to prevent sale of contaminated cannabis, especially to children and young people in the black markets. The legislation is also expected to bring forth “health protection” at the centre of the German drug policy. It is also to reduce drug trafficking and ease it for medicinal use.

What are the opposition's concerns?
Criticisms have sparked over the impact it would have on young people. The normalisation of cannabis consumption and easier access to the product could lead to an increase in the use of the product, especially by youngsters. Law enforcement officials noted major concerns over the lack of clarity in the means to implement and regulate the restrictions suggested in the legislation. Concerns have been raised over costs to implement regulations like preventing cannabis consumption within a certain range of localities and timings of public consumption have not been clearly stated. There is a potential for giving amnesty to 200,000 cannabis-related offences causing a major administrative crisis. Health groups have also indicated on the effect on central nervous system increasing the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia among the young.

How is use of cannabis viewed in Germany’s neighbourhood?
Prior to Germany, Malta and Luxembourg introduced their liberal laws towards the recreational use of cannabis, in 2021 and 2023. The recreational use of marijuana is considered illegal for possession and consumption in most countries in the EU with few exceptions. In 2001, Portugal decriminalised cannabis, with its possession and consumption considered only an administrative offence and not a criminal one. Spain permits its personal use privately and within established ‘cannabis social clubs’ where it is collectively cultivated within prescribed limits. The Czech Republic is lenient towards the possession and use of small quantities of cannabis. The Netherlands has the reputation for relaxed policies on marijuana consumption. Its production and sale within the country is illegal, but small quantities in licenced “coffee shops” are ignored by the state. However, in recent years a stricter approach has been taken. For EU, the main concern has been in establishing commercial markets for cannabis, some countries opted to experiment with a non-profit model to forego restrictions. An alternative is the pilot programme approach which is under experiment Switzerland. It grants limited and regulated access to the sale of cannabis while monitoring potential health concerns among the public, to establish a safe and regulated cannabis market for recreational purposes.

Does legalising solve the problem?
The move is considered as a step to appease the younger voters ahead of elections. While the text explicitly speaks of protecting young people, statistically, they consume cannabis the most. If 8.8 per cent of individuals aged between 18-64 claim to have had marijuana in the last year, the number rises to 10 per cent between the age group of 12-18. While the aim is to shut down the black market for cannabis, there is a tendency for most crimes related to the sale of cannabis to go unnoticed with a blanket of immunity given the lack of clarity among law enforcement and the judiciary. 

Legalising does solve the problem in the face value but fails to protect the most ‘at-risk’ groups of people. Comparing with Germany’s decriminalisation of prostitution in 2002, it was aimed to shut illegal brothels, create respect for sex workers and ensure social security. While these were achieved newer challenges emerged with more power to the owners of the prostitution and forcing many into the profession. 

Both issues have similar conundrums of implementation. Since cannabis legalisation is taking place in a phased manner, initial observations would guide the future of its full-scale implementation. However, a pilot programme similar to the Swiss approach will help analyse health risks and the success of each phase would be a decider for the future of cannabis decriminalisation in Germany.

Lili Bayer, “
Cannabis users celebrate relaxation of laws on personal use in Germany”, The Guardian, 01 April 2024
Dario Sabaghi, “
Germany’s Cannabis Legalization Plan Faces Criticism Within GovernmentForbes, 17 January 2024
Germany legalises limited amounts of marijuana”, Euronews, 01 April 2024
Germany gives controversial green light to cannabis”, The Economic Times, 01 April 2024
Sarah Sinclair, “
Where Is Cannabis Legal In Europe? A Guide To The Latest Policy Changes”, Forbes, 31 January 2024
Commission decides to partially register a European Citizens' Initiative on Cannabis”, European Commission, 06 February 2024
Lauren Chadwick & Cornelia Trefflich, “
Germany is set to make cannabis legal. Where does the rest of Europe stand on marijuana use?”, Euronews, 18 August 2023
Legal prostitution in Germany: A failure?”, France 24 English (YouTube), 01 March 2024

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