Germany takes step toward Legalizing Marijuana
The government signed off on legislation that would allow adults to buy and possess small amounts of cannabis.
Parliament still needs to approve the measure.
The German government approved a plan on Wednesday to legalize some recreational marijuana use, paving the way to allow adults to legally buy and possess small amounts of cannabis.
The legislation, which would allow adults to purchase and possess up to 25 grams of recreational cannabis for personal consumption through nonprofit social clubs, must still be approved by Parliament. But the endorsement from the three-party coalition’s cabinet was a crucial step toward Germany becoming the first major European country to legalize marijuana.
“This is an important law that will represent a long-term change in drug policy,” said Karl Lauterbach, Germany’s health minister, at a news conference on Wednesday, adding that the legislation represented “a concept of controlled legalization.”
Under current German law, it is illegal to buy cannabis, but not to consume it.
The measure is weaker than what Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government had originally proposed. The socially liberal coalition announced its intent to legalize recreational marijuana when it came into power in 2021, quickly finding consensus on an issue opposed for years by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But implementation has proved difficult. A version of the plan introduced last year by Mr. Lauterbach would have allowed the distribution of marijuana through commercial stores. That idea was scuttled after meeting resistance from the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission.
Instead, the legislation approved on Wednesday allows distribution through the creation of licensed private cultivation associations with no more than 500 members. Members would be allowed to buy up to 25 grams — slightly less than an ounce — on any one day, but with a limit of 50 grams in a month.
The German government also plans to launch a series of regional pilot programs that would allow the sale of cannabis through a small number of licensed specialty shops, in an attempt to gather more information about the effects of allowing individuals to purchase marijuana commercially.
That measure is a response to the European Commission’s uneasiness with the German government’s earlier proposal to allow cannabis to be sold at stores. Similar pilot programs have been rolled out in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Mr. Lauterbach acknowledged on Wednesday that the plan had received backlash from both critics who felt the measure was too narrow and those who thought it went too far. He argued the criticism from both sides was “a good sign” that indicated the law was crafted with “a sense of proportion.”
“We want to limit consumption and make it safer, especially for children and young people. But we don’t want to expand it,” he said.
Members of Germany’s center-right opposition bloc have argued that the plan would put minors at risk. The legislation introduced by the government still prohibits marijuana possession for children under 18, and limits young adults ages 18 to 21 from procuring 30 grams a month from a cultivation club.
Armin Schuster, a member of the Christian Democrats in Saxony, warned that the law would unleash a “complete loss of control.” Herbert Ruel, also a Christian Democrat based in North Rhine-Westphalia, told the German network RND that the legislation would be overly onerous to enforce.
“How you can get the idea that you would relieve the police and other authorities is a mystery to me,” Mr. Ruel said.
Proponents of the measure in Germany’s governing coalition, who hope the law will be enacted by the end of the year, have countered that the nation’s current drug policy on cannabis use has reached its limit and that the new law would minimize the black market.
“We have to combine realism with prevention,” said Marco Buschmann, the federal minister of justice.
Several nations in the European Union have expressed interest in legalization. Malta, the tiny archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, was the first to legalize marijuana.