Adult-use cannabis policy is taking shape in Germany after many details were provided during a press conference held earlier this month. While there are some details that need to be further explored, below is what we know right now regarding the first phase of legalization according to the current plan:
The components listed above will serve as the foundation for the first phase of a multi-faceted approach to cannabis reform in Europe’s largest economy. The second phase of the plan will result in regional adult-use cannabis commerce pilot programs, which for the providers and consumers involved, will yield a situation in which adult-use cannabis purchases are completely legal.
Government officials in Frankfurt and Offenbach have already declared their intent to launch such programs, and it’s guaranteed that they will not be the last jurisdiction to do so. It’s quite possible that pilot programs will proliferate in Germany in the coming years.
The second phase will take longer to implement being that more rules and regulations will be involved compared to the first phase of German legalization, and from that standpoint, it’s a good thing that it’s operating on its own timeline separate from the first phase of legalization.
A third phase for German legalization is also being pursued in the form of an ongoing effort to obtain the European Union’s approval for regulated national sales. Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has led that effort since October 2022. So far, the EU has unfortunately refrained from granting such approval.
However, even without nationwide sales to anyone of legal age Germany’s model will still be closer to legalization found elsewhere on the planet than many people may think.
Uruguay became the first country on earth to pass a national adult-use cannabis legalization measure back in 2013. Although, legal sales at pharmacies did not begin until 2017, which is a fact that many international cannabis observers seem to forget. Much like Germany’s approach to legalization, Uruguay rolled out its legalization model in phases.
The legal age for cannabis in Uruguay is the same as what is being considered in Germany, 18 years old, and home cultivation is permitted (up to 6 plants) in addition to noncommercial cannabis clubs. The possession limits in Uruguay are somewhat unique, in that there are per-month possession and purchasing limits. Taking all of that into consideration, the first phase of German legalization will look a lot like the first phase of legalization in Uruguay.
Uruguay’s legalization model has its limitations, which is true of any legalization model on earth that is currently in existence. Arguably the most notable limitation of Uruguay’s legalization model is that it is for citizens and permanent residents – not tourists. Furthermore, while sales became legal at pharmacies to citizens and residents in 2017, the types of products available to consumers are limited and involve THC percentage caps.
Between 2017 and late 2022, pharmacies in Uruguay were only permitted to sell two varieties of cannabis flower, “alpha” and “beta.” Both options have a THC level of less than or equal to 9% and a CBD level of greater than or equal to 3%. It wasn’t until December 2022 that a third option became available, “gamma,” which contains a THC percentage that is ‘less than or equal to 15%, and a CBD percentage that is less than or equal to 1%.’
Comparing the current situation in Uruguay to Germany’s eventual proposed second phase of legalization demonstrates that the two models are not nearly as different as many cannabis observers seem to be indicating. And whereas Uruguay does not currently appear to have plans to expand its legalization model, Germany’s pursuit of robust, regulated national sales to anyone of legal age is ongoing (and gaining momentum).
Canada is currently the only country on earth where someone of legal age (at least 18 years old) can legally purchase a wide variety of cannabis products nationwide regardless of their residency status. Canada became the second country to legalize cannabis for adult use, including sales, back in 2018.
However, Canada’s legalization model also has its limitations. For starters, while cannabis may be available nationwide to some degree, there are still local commerce bans in place. Consider the fact that policymakers in Mississauga, Ontario voted just last week to eventually permit legal retail sales within their jurisdictional boundaries. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled this month that jurisdictions can also ban home cultivation entirely.
The first and second phases of legalization in Germany will obviously not result in the same overall variety of consumer options compared to what can be found in Canada right now for everyone of legal age. However, for people that live in Canada where home cultivation and/or retail sales are still prohibited, comparing their situation to someone in future Germany who can cultivate their own cannabis, join a noncommercial cannabis club, and sign up for a local pilot program highlights that the ‘legalization gap’ will not be as wide for many consumers in Germany compared to Canada soon. At least not as wide as many people may think.
Malta will forever hold the distinction of being the first European country to pass a national adult-use legalization measure, having done so in late 2021. With that being said, Malta’s legalization model is much more limited in size and scope compared to Uruguay and Canada.
The legal age for adult-use cannabis in Malta is also 18 years old. Like Canada, adults in Malta are permitted to cultivate up to four cannabis plants, and like Uruguay, Malta will eventually permit noncommercial cannabis clubs. Yet, unlike Uruguay and Canada, there will be no other means in Malta by which to legally acquire legal cannabis other than gifting – no pharmacy or store sales.
Malta’s adult-use possession limit is set at 50 grams, which will likely be the only component of Malta’s adult-use legalization model that is better than what will be implemented in Germany under the nation’s first phase of legalization. Once the second phase of legalization is launched, Germany’s model will be superior to Malta’s by every measure outside of the personal possession limit parameter.
The United States is home to a unique set of cannabis policies and regulations. At the federal level cannabis remains prohibited in the United States to a large degree, however, legalization at the state level is becoming increasingly more common with every passing election and legislative session.
Yet, even in legal states like Oregon where I live, there are still local jurisdictions that prohibit cannabis sales. Also, the legal age in the United States (state-level) is 21 years old. Furthermore, there are legal states in the U.S. that still prohibit home cultivation, with Washington State being a notable one. Washington voters approved a legalization measure in 2012 and yet adults still cannot legally cultivate cannabis for recreational purposes there.
The State of Vermont passed a legalization measure in 2018, however, legalization in the Northeastern state did not include regulated cannabis sales upon initial passage. That didn’t happen until years later. No two states in the U.S. have passed an identical legalization measure, and no two states have entirely identical cannabis regulations. What legalization looks like in the U.S. depends on which jurisdiction you are in, and even within legal states, options afforded to consumers often vary from city to city and county to county.
What constitutes legalization these days is not as straightforward as it seemed to be not that many years ago. As a longtime cannabis activist in the United States, I remember at the start of the 2010s that simply being able to legally possess and consume cannabis was considered by many to constitute legalization.
Zoom forward to today, and if you ask, ‘what is true cannabis legalization?’ to a group of five cannabis enthusiasts you will probably get twelve different answers. Many cannabis advocates in the United States feel that unless home cultivation is permitted, then true legalization is not achieved. Conversely, many advocates in Europe seem to feel that if national sales are not permitted, then true legalization is not achieved. Often lost in the discussion on both sides of the Atlantic is people recognizing that what is important in a legalization model to one person may not be the same to the next person and that there likely is no ‘right’ answer.
When Thailand implemented its cannabis reform measures last year, many people in the international cannabis community touted it as legalization. That, despite Thailand only legalized low-THC cannabis at a THC threshold that is considerably lower than what is already common in Europe.
Back in September 2018, South Africa’s top court issued a ruling striking down cannabis prohibition as it pertained to personal consumers. At the time, the decision was touted by media outlets around the world as South Africa having ‘legalized cannabis.’ Something similar also happened in Mexico in 2018 and in Italy in 2019 after historic cannabis court decisions were rendered in those countries.
All the examples of legalization in jurisdictions around the world cited in this article provide important context to what is happening in Germany right now, and how the nation’s approach to legalization fits into the bigger picture. That is a vital consideration that must be made by people trying to anticipate where things are headed in the coming years, not only in Germany but also in the rest of Europe.
Europe’s cannabis legalization model is taking shape, and there will seemingly be a heavy reliance going forward on home cultivation, gifting, noncommercial clubs, ‘cannabis light,’ and regional adult-use pilot programs. Whenever national sales arrive for anyone and everyone of legal age within Germany’s borders, whenever that ultimately occurs, the actual leap will likely end up not being nearly as great as it probably seems like it will be right now.
Phase one of German legalization is a really big deal by many measures. Cannabis prohibition is a failed public policy in Germany, and it’s time for a more sensible approach, particularly as it pertains to individual liberties.
Thankfully, the first phase of German legalization is not a final destination, but rather, just one of the multiple stops along the way toward comprehensive national reform. Things are evolving rapidly in Germany right now, and that is already having a butterfly effect on the continent. Make sure to head to Berlin in June to attend the International Cannabis Business Conference and find out the latest and greatest information straight from the international cannabis experts that are on the frontlines of policy and industry.