Germany scales back cannabis liberalization after EU talks

BERLIN (AP) – Germany’s government presented scaled-back plans Wednesday to liberalize the country’s rules on cannabis, including by decriminalizing possession of limited amounts and allowing members of nonprofit “cannabis clubs” to buy marijuana for recreational purposes.

In a second step, German officials also envision setting up regional test projects to sell cannabis through “commercial supply chains,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said. But the proposal differs from one he presented in October, which foresaw allowing the sale of cannabis to adults across the country at licensed outlets.

The German government revised the plan following talks with the European Union’s executive commission. Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said EU law “sets us limits we must respect, but that I will also say we are pushing.”

Lauterbach had cautioned all along that the government would only proceed with its original plan if it got the green light from the EU.

Germany has allowed some patients to get cannabis as a prescription medication since 2017.

The proposed new legislation foresees legalizing the possession of up to 25 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of cannabis for recreational purposes and allowing individuals to grow up to three plants.

It would let German residents 18 and older join nonprofit “cannabis clubs” with a maximum 500 members each, which would be allowed to grow cannabis for members’ personal consumption. Individuals would be allowed to buy up to 25 grams per day, or up to 50 grams per month – a figure that would be limited to 30 grams for adults under age 21.

Membership in multiple clubs wouldn’t be allowed, and authorities could limit the number of clubs. The clubs’ costs would be covered by membership fees, which would be staggered according to how much cannabis the members use.

Özdemir said that draft legislation will be finalized this month and that “consumption will become legal this year already.” Officials hope that the first step will help push back the black market.

This fall, the government plans to map out the next step: five-year tests of regulated commercial supply chains in select regions. Lauterbach said details, including which regions would be chosen, have yet to be thrashed out.

The government wants to have the pilot projects scientifically evaluated. The ministers were optimistic that successful tests would enable them to build pressure for a change of policy at the EU level, and ultimately to clear the way for their original plan to allow licensed sales.

The feedback so far from Brussels “is on the one hand, something that perhaps disappointed us, but on the other hand also an opportunity – the opportunity to build the basis for a European cannabis policy with a well-conducted study,” Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin.

The plans will need the approval of the German parliament’s lower house, but officials said an endorsement is not needed from the upper house. That chamber represents Germany’s 16 state governments, many of which include the country’s main center-right opposition bloc.

The bloc has opposed liberalizing cannabis laws. One conservative regional official went to Brussels to lobby against Lauterbach’s initial plan.

Center-right health policy spokesman Tino Sorge told the Funke newspaper group that the government was pressing ahead with legalizing a risky drug “despite European legal hurdles, clear expert opinions and bad experiences from other countries.” He accused Lauterbach of setting the wrong priorities.

The health minister argued that Germany’s existing policies have failed. He said the government’s aim is to offer greater safety, protect consumers against contaminated and toxic products, and reduce drug-related crime.

“We are not creating a problem,” Lauterbach insisted. “We are trying to solve a problem.”

He reiterated that Germany doesn’t want to emulate the model of the neighboring Netherlands, which combines decriminalization with little market regulation.

The cannabis plan is one of several social reform projects that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s socially liberal three-party governing coalition agreed to embark on when it took office in December 2021.

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