Cannabis legalization in Germany – questions and answers

The legalization of cannabis for recreational use is a controversial project of the Ampel coalition in Berlin. Proponents argue that releasing cannabis would decriminalize users and reduce illicit trafficking. Opponents, on the other hand, fear that regular use of the so-called soft drug can lead to addiction and mental illness. As early as October 2022, the German government had presented a paper on the legalization of cannabis, but the originally planned sale in special stores failed due to the resistance of the EU. Revised key points for the proposed bill were published on April 12, 2023. Here are the main questions and answers about it:
When should the legalization of cannabis come?

Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) says he plans to legalize the use of cannabis before the end of this year. The current draft of the federal government provides for the so-called two-pillar model CARe (“Club Cultivation & Regional Model”). The first part, which regulates home cultivation and possession for personal use, has already been published. The German government plans to present a draft bill in April, which will then have to pass through the Bundestag and Bundesrat after being voted on by the government and approved by the cabinet. The second part, which relates to model regions, is to follow after the summer break.

What regulations should apply to home cultivation and personal use?
  • For adults, possession of 25 grams of cannabis for personal use should remain unpunished.
  • For the time being, cultivation and dispensing will be made possible through non-profit associations or cannabis clubs, such as those already permitted in some regions of Spain and in Malta.
  • Up to three female flowering plants are allowed in private home cultivation.
How much cannabis can be dispensed in clubs?
  • According to the plans, the associations or clubs are allowed to dispense a maximum of 25 grams of cannabis per day per person, and a total of 50 grams per person per month.
  • The minimum age for club membership is 18, with a maximum of 500 members allowed per club.
  • If members are under 21, they will receive a maximum of 30 grams per month, and there is also a limit on THC content for this group.
  • Cannabis clubs are also allowed to distribute seeds and cuttings to members for home cultivation. Here, a maximum of seven seeds or five cuttings per month should be allowed.
  • Clubs must appoint youth protection, addiction and prevention officers and may not advertise.
  • Membership in more than one club is prohibited.
  • Whether cannabis may also be consumed in the clubs has not yet been conclusively clarified.
What are the requirements for minors and in public?

Minors caught with cannabis must take part in mandatory intervention and prevention programs, according to the key points paper. In public, consumption is prohibited near schools or daycare centers. No smoking is allowed in pedestrian areas until 8 p.m.

Will earlier penalties be waived if the bill passes as planned?

Previous convictions for possession or own cultivation of up to 25 grams or a maximum of three plants can be deleted from the Federal Central Register upon application. Corresponding ongoing criminal and investigative proceedings will also be terminated.

What are the proposals for the planned model regions?

The federal government is planning a second step as part of cannabis legalization, with commercial supply chains from production to sales in specialty stores to be tried out in several states. However, the selected regions are still unclear, although there is interest from several cities and states such as Berlin, Bremen and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Bavaria, on the other hand, is strictly against the plans of the traffic light coalition. The projects are to be scientifically accompanied, limited to a period of five years and restricted to the inhabitants of the municipalities concerned. The EU will continue to have a say in this second pillar of the planned legalization, as the German government emphasizes.

Could drug tourism to model regions be imminent?

There are concerns about the proposed second pillar of cannabis legalization. Bavaria and Denmark in particular have expressed their concerns. However, health expert Karl Lauterbach has suggested that comprehensive safeguards be put in place to address these concerns. To this end, it is to be ensured, for example, that no more cannabis is produced in the model municipalities than is consumed by the local consumers. This is to prevent the trade in cannabis from moving to other regions.

Do I have to pay taxes on the drugs?

Not at the clubs and societies; they provide cannabis at cost. But in commercial sales, drugs would be taxed like alcohol or cigarettes.

What is cannabis?

The hemp plant, whose Latin name is Cannabis, has been used for thousands of years for various purposes. In this process, it serves as a raw material for fibers for the production of ropes, for edible oil from the seeds, as well as for essential oils obtained from the distilled leaves and flowers. In addition, cannabis is used as an intoxicant, with marijuana consisting of dried parts of the plant (mostly flowers) and hashish and hashish oil obtained from the extracted resin of the female flowers. A female plant of the species Cannabis sativa contains at least 144 cannabinoids, with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being the most psychoactive. According to the German Centre for Addiction Issues (DHS), marijuana has a THC content of 7 to 11%, depending on the variety and the method of production, while hashish contains from 11 to 19% THC. In greenhouse cultivars, THC content can increase up to 20% in marijuana, up to 30% in hashish, and in some cases over 70% in hashish oil. Another important ingredient of the cannabis plant is cannabidiol (CBD), which has no intoxicating effect.

How does tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) work?

THC affects the central nervous system, where in small doses it can induce euphoria, loss of anxiety, sedation, and drowsiness. Therefore, it is often compared with the effect of alcohol. It can also suppress nausea and vomiting, which is thought to be due to its effect on the body’s cannabis receptors. The human body has its own cannabis system called the endocannabinoid system, which is part of the nervous system. It regulates many bodily functions such as pain perception, appetite, immune functions and mood. The effect of THC on this system causes the body’s own processes to become unbalanced.

How is cannabis used in medicine?

In early 2017, a law was passed by the German parliament allowing the use of cannabis as medicine in certain cases. The medical cannabis prescribed in Germany can contain up to 22 percent THC. However, there is insufficient study evidence on the efficacy of cannabis therapies. In July 2022, the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) published a final report on a companion survey of cannabis in medicine over the past five years. However, only 16,809 fully submitted, anonymized records were included in this report, although there were approximately 70,000 treatment cases during this period, according to the public health insurers. According to the BfArM report, pain was the most commonly treated with cannabis medicines (76.4%), followed by spasticity (9.6%) and anorexia (loss of appetite, 5.1%). Tumor disease was present in 14.5 percent of cases and multiple sclerosis in 5.9 percent of cases.

How many people use cannabis?

The 2022 World Drug Report states that cannabis is the most commonly used drug (after alcohol and nicotine), with 209 million users as of 2020. Compared to the previous year, the production of marijuana (herb) increased by 15% and hashish (resin) by 29%. According to estimates by the Ministry of Health, about four million adults in Germany use cannabis. According to the German Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), in 2021, one in eight 18- to 25-year-old males reported regularly using cannabis. In 2008, it was still one in twenty. In 2021, just over half of this age group (50.8%) had used the drug at least once. Between 1973 and 1997, no more than 25% of all 18- to 25-year-olds had any consumption experience of their own.

Why should cannabis be legalized?

Politicians give the reason to fight uncontrolled trade and consumption via the black market and thus organized crime. According to Lauterbach and Özdemir, the protection of minors should also be improved, as the previous control policy had failed. Sociologist Bernd Werse of the Institute for Addiction Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main told the Tagesschau that in principle he very much welcomed the fact that people should no longer be punished for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

What do opponents of legalization say?

Some opponents of the proposed legalization of cannabis accuse the health minister of placing more emphasis on legalizing a drug than on protecting health. These critics claim that the risks of cannabis use are being downplayed. Particularly fierce opposition to the plans is coming from Bavaria, where legalization is being called an “aberration” and an “ideological legalization project.” Some critics have doubts that legalizing cannabis will actually help reduce drug-related crime or prevent people from switching to harder drugs. They claim that legally available cannabis would be more expensive than illegal cannabis, allowing the black market to continue to exist. Klaus Reinhardt, president of the German Medical Association, believes the regulations will not dry up the black market, but instead will boost it significantly.

What are the concerns from a medical perspective?

The Professional Association of Pediatricians and Adolescents warns against legalizing cannabis for people under 25. The brain is not fully mature until around 25 years of age, and regular consumption can permanently disrupt brain development, says association head Thomas Fischbach. Jakob Maske, spokesman for the association, criticizes that the current draft does not show how the protection of children and young people is to be guaranteed. Although legally it would make sense to allow cannabis use from the age of 18, medically it would make sense to ban it until the age of 25, Maske told the Stuttgarter Zeitung. The World Drug Report sees a link between increased cannabis use and an increase in mental disorders, attributing this to the ongoing legalization of cannabis worldwide.

How addictive is cannabis use?

Experts warn of the risks of long-term cannabis use. This could cause mental, social and physical problems. However, it is considered unlikely that serious brain damage will occur as it does with alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that regular use of high-potency cannabis containing more than 10% THC may increase the risk of psychosis. The question of whether cannabis is a gateway drug has long been the subject of controversy. According to the German Addiction Service (DHS), however, only a few users switch to harder drugs in the long term.

What are the laws on cannabis in Germany so far?

In contrast to legal addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol, cannabis has so far been considered an illegal substance in Germany and falls under the Narcotics Act (BtMG). It is classified as “non-marketable” alongside drugs such as heroin and MDMA (“ecstasy”). Therefore, any possession of cannabis and cannabis products such as hashish and marijuana is currently punishable by law. However, in the case of a small amount intended for personal use, the prosecutor may refrain from prosecution. The limits at which prosecution occurs vary by state.

What is the legal framework in Europe?

According to the Schengen Protocol, each EU country is obliged to prohibit the illicit trafficking and export of narcotic drugs and psychoactive substances of all kinds under penalty of prosecution. An exception clause applies only to private consumption. This regulation has been used for many years in the Netherlands, for example, with the so-called coffee shops, where sales for personal consumption are merely tolerated. The Czech Republic also wants to legalize cannabis for personal use to a large extent. Hemp products are already sold in pharmacies there.

What are the penalties for cannabis use in traffic?

Individuals caught driving or riding a motorcycle under the influence of cannabis may be classified as unfit to drive. Unlike alcohol, there are no set limits for cannabis. Even the detection of a small amount of THC can constitute a misdemeanor. It does not matter whether the consumption actually leads to a restriction of driving ability. As a rule, the driver’s license is confiscated. The new key points paper states that the limit values in road, shipping and air traffic are to be reviewed with the participation of experts. Regulations for driving under the influence of cannabis are intended to meet road safety requirements only.

Cannabis & Cannabis Use – Current Legal Situation in Germany

The legal situation regarding cannabis and cannabis use in Germany is laid down in the Narcotics Act (BtMG). Cannabis is classified as “non-marketable” in Schedule I of the BtMG, which means that any possession of cannabis products such as hashish or marijuana is illegal and punishable by law. According to § 29 et seq. of the BtMG, anyone who illicitly cultivates, manufactures, traffics, imports, exports, sells, dispenses or otherwise puts into circulation, acquires or otherwise obtains narcotics is punished. Although the use of illegal drugs is not punishable in Germany, people who use cannabis often make themselves liable to prosecution, since consumption usually implies possession.

To combat the proliferation of artificially produced synthetic cannabinoids (cannabimimetics), the New Psychoactive Substances Act (NpSG) was introduced in 2016. The NpSG now also prohibits the substance group of synthetic cannabinoids, and small chemical changes can no longer circumvent prohibitions. This is to prevent dangerous substances such as “spice”, “incense mix” or “bonzai” from being put on the market, which could create the impression of harmlessness among young consumers due to a supposed “legality”. For more information on the NpSG, click here.

Current legal consequences

Prosecution of small amounts of cannabis intended solely for personal use is at the discretion of the prosecutor. There is no uniform definition of “small quantity” in the various federal states. It is usually set at 6 grams, some states go up to 10 grams, and Berlin sets the limit at 10 to 15 grams.

It should be noted, however, that the meaning of this limit may vary by state. In some states, proceedings are discontinued up to this limit, while in other states they can still be discontinued. If the amount is above the limit, the procedure is usually not discontinued. Therefore, there is never a guarantee that the case will be dismissed.

Impunity is no longer available if there is a “threat to others.” A risk to others is assumed if, for example, use is made in schools or youth centers and this could encourage imitation. Giving cannabis to others – including giving it away for no consideration – is also viewed critically. If adults over the age of 21 supply cannabis to minors under the age of 18, they face a prison sentence of at least one year. Violations by juveniles are reported to the responsible youth welfare office, which usually contacts the parents. The data are stored for several years in the police information system (“Polas”) and could lead to problems in the future when choosing a profession or obtaining a driver’s license.

Cookie Consent Banner by Real Cookie Banner