What does the legalisation of cannabis in Germany mean for the rest of Europe?

De: Contributor Ativismo

This Monday, Germany became the largest EU country to legalise recreational cannabis thanks to the approval of some of the most liberal cannabis laws in Europe, alongside those of Malta and Luxembourg. What’s more, the size of the recreational market in this country and its potential as the world’s third largest economy make the implications of this measure much more important for an Old Continent that now has a large mirror to hold up to the rest of the world.

The long-awaited legalisation of cannabis in Germany is finally here. It has been about two and a half years since the Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach led talks and negotiations with European executives to determine what the EU would allow for the German regulatory model. Members of the ruling coalition had initially called for the authorisation of domestic retail sales before deciding on the stricter provisions that make up the recently approved measure.

What is allowed in Germany from 1st April 2024 is the cultivation, possession, and personal consumption of marijuana by adults. More specifically, the possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis for personal use (and up to 50 grams for home use) has been decriminalised, allowing requests for the elimination of criminal records for previous possession offences. Domestic cultivation of up to three marijuana plants for personal use has also been legalised, and a regulatory framework has been established for non-profit associations, where cannabis can be grown and supplied to their members, with the launch date scheduled for 1st July. Moreover, cannabis will also be removed from the list of prohibited substances within the German Narcotics Act.

This is what makes up the ‘Pillar 1’ legalisation measure. Subsequently, regional pilot cannabis trade programmes will also be allowed as part of ‘Pillar 2’. As with similar ‘experiments’ under way in the Netherlands and Switzerland, it is hoped that the international law limitations will be eased under the ‘scientific research’ slogan. This change means that Germany now has some of the most liberal cannabis laws in Europe, similar to those in Malta and Luxembourg, which legalised recreational use in 2021 and 2023 respectively.

Nonetheless, this legalisation model is far from the initial idea of the ‘traffic light coalition’ (based on the colours of the three parties that constitute it). When this government initially announced cannabis reforms in 2021, the plan was for a regulated commercial market closer to that of Canada’s, which was established in 2018. A study suggests that such a market could potentially create 27,000 jobs in Germany, generating €4.7 billion per year in tax revenue and criminal justice savings. But these aspirations had to be curbed when it became clear that the original vision for a commercial market would probably violate legal obligations under both UN drug conventions and EU law.

Instead, Germany has opted for a form of ‘light legalisation’ that provides channels for legal access, through non-profit organisations or associations for local cultivation, while attempting to avoid the minefield of international law to which a commercial market would have led. A similar reduction has also occurred with the reforms in the Czech Republic and Luxembourg. The three countries have moderated their plans and essentially copied Malta, which is the unlikely pioneer of cannabis reform in Europe. Its innovative model for cannabis associations and non-commercial domestic cultivation was approved in 2021, becoming a benchmark for the new wave of reforms in the EU.

A mirror to look into

The German legalisation now serves as a model for cannabis in Europe and provides a set of public policies that can withstand EU scrutiny, creating huge opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, particularly in the sectors of accessories for domestic cultivation and personal use of this emerging cannabis industry.

But as the debate over the merits of the different cannabis policy models unfolds in an experiment that spans the globe (from 24 US states to Canada, Uruguay, South Africa, Mexico, and some regions in Australia), Germany’s move seems particularly far-reaching. With a population over 100 times larger than those of Malta or Luxembourg, and located at the heart of the European establishment, Germany has the economic and political influence to significantly redirect the laws and the thinking behind drug policies in the EU as well as on a wider international scale.

Germany is the world’s biggest domino to fall in the world of cannabis prohibition. This country has a population of over 83 million people, which is way more than the combined populations of Uruguay, Canada, Malta, and Luxembourg, the four countries that have so far legalised cannabis at national level, and which together only add up to 43 million people. And with Japan currently in recession, Germany has risen to become the third largest economy in the world.

Cannabis legalisation in Germany is extremely important from all points of view, not only nationally but also at a continental level. And many countries are likely to adopt their regularisation model to ensure EU approval.

German citizens celebrating legalisation at the Brandenburg Gate

The domino effect of legalisation

The most immediate domino effect after the legalisation of cannabis in Germany will be felt in the immediate region where this nation is located, as it shares more borders with other countries than any other nation in Europe. In fact, several European leaders have already indicated that they will closely follow Germany in terms of modernising their cannabis policies; and other nations in Europe are likely to do the same once the reform proves successful.

For instance, the Netherlands is renowned for its seemingly relaxed attitude towards cannabis, but the country has recently adopted a stricter approach to counter cannabis tourism. This will be likely to change as an outcome of the results that this legalisation process brings to their neighbour.

Other European cannabis landmarks like Spain will also be affected, with hundreds of cannabis clubs operating and hosting the world’s largest cannabis expo. The Spanish anti-cannabis lawmakers have benefitted from the status quo of the current cannabis policy: the plant is tolerated but remains illegal throughout the country. The efforts of these lawmakers to delay and sabotage any type of reform will become less sustainable as German legalisation succeeds. This will be true for both Spain and other European nations like France, which is probably the country that is taking the longest to take the necessary steps for legalisation.

Every cannabis reform victory in Europe is the basis for the following one. Nations with modernised cannabis policies continue to collaborate and form coalitions to reform EU policies. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the coalition of legal nations in Europe, led by Germany, will reach critical mass until they gain approval to unblock the European recreational cannabis market.

In the meantime, many countries are likely to adopt Germany’s legalisation model to ensure the approval of the EU. It will be interesting to see how many cannabis clubs will be operating in Germany within 2 to 3 years. Malta already has some legal cannabis clubs, but there are still very few in operation. What’s expected in Germany will be comparatively much larger in both size and scope.

It’s the turn of the European politicians

The same applies to the regional pilot projects for the trade of cannabis in Germany, which allow participants to register for legal purchases at authorised retail outlets. This type of programme is already in place in Switzerland, but the number of participants is much lower than those expected in Germany in the coming years.

The theory behind the pilot projects is that, by allowing localised sales, legislators and regulators will be better prepared to develop national standards and policies. If all cannabis users in Germany were allowed to make legal purchases through a cannabis club or pilot programme, domestic cannabis sales would effectively be established.

There are many things happening in Germany at this truly historic and exciting time. The support for responsible cannabis regulation is becoming more standardised and widespread. It is no longer a radical position but rather a pragmatic one, with real-world examples to prove it.

While European politicians, with elections around the corner, lack the courage to move beyond the tiresome ‘drug crackdown’ stance, public support for legalisation continues its relentless rise. As support for a reform platform becomes a political asset rather than a political liability, positions long held privately by those in power will increasingly emerge in public. And that’s great news for cannabis, whichever way you look at it.

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