Germany Legalises Cannabis in a Major Decision

German legislators endorsed a government proposal on Friday to relax regulations concerning cannabis, marking a step toward the potential decriminalization of limited quantities of marijuana and the authorization for individuals to purchase it for recreational use through “cannabis clubs.”

The Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, supported the measure, a key initiative of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s socially progressive coalition, with 407 votes in favor and 226 against, with four abstentions.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach emphasized the government’s objective to combat the illicit market and enhance safeguards for young people. He criticized existing laws in the European Union’s most populous country for their failure to curb cannabis consumption, leading to heightened concerns about contaminated or excessively potent cannabis.

“We cannot continue down this path,” Lauterbach asserted to lawmakers. “Ignoring the issue will not resolve any problems.”

Despite his past opposition to cannabis legalization, Lauterbach cited addiction specialists who advocate for normalizing discussions around marijuana and providing comprehensive information on its risks as the appropriate strategy.

The legislation proposes legalizing the possession of up to 25 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of cannabis for adults for recreational use and permitting individuals to cultivate up to three plants at home. This aspect of the law is slated to come into force on April 1.

As of July 1, German residents aged 18 and above would be eligible to join non-profit “cannabis clubs,” each capped at 500 members, for personal consumption. These clubs would have the authorization to cultivate cannabis for their members.

Individuals would be permitted to purchase up to 25 grams per day or a maximum of 50 grams per month, with a reduced allowance of 30 grams for those under the age of 21.

Membership in multiple clubs would be prohibited. The operational expenses of these clubs would be funded through membership fees, which would be adjusted based on members’ cannabis consumption levels.

The government intends to impose restrictions on the advertising or sponsorship of cannabis, and the clubs and consumption would be prohibited in close proximity to schools, playgrounds, and sports facilities. An assessment of the legislation’s impact on the protection of children and adolescents is scheduled to be conducted within 18 months of its enactment.

The primary opposition bloc from the center-right strongly opposes the proposed change. Conservative lawmaker Tino Sorge criticized Health Minister Lauterbach, stating, “You’re seriously suggesting here, as health minister, that legalizing more drugs will reduce consumption among children and young people. That’s the most absurd notion I’ve ever heard.”

Following the vote, Lauterbach informed reporters that “dealers have no cause for celebration.” He emphasized that under the new legislation, dealers caught selling to minors can expect a minimum sentence of two years.

The plan falls considerably short of the government’s initial aspirations, which aimed to permit the sale of cannabis to adults nationwide through licensed establishments. However, negotiations with the European Union’s executive commission led to a scaled-back version of the project.

While the legislation technically could be delayed by the upper house of parliament, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments, its approval is not formally required. The conservative government of Bavaria has indicated it will explore potential legal challenges against the liberalization plan.

This legislation is one of several promised by Scholz’s coalition upon assuming office in 2021. Despite facing criticism due to economic challenges and internal disputes, the coalition has implemented measures such as simplifying the process of obtaining citizenship, lifting restrictions on dual citizenship, and proposing reforms to facilitate gender and name changes for transgender, intersex, and nonbinary individuals in official records.

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