The adult-use legalization saga in Germany experienced new twists and turns this week, with reports surfacing that provide new details about Health Minister Karl Lauterbach’s pending legalization plan. In October 2022, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a long-awaited legalization plan to the federal cabinet. After the presentation, Minister Lauterbach started lobbying the European Union for its permission to proceed with a national legalization plan.
Since the 2021 federal election, the eyes of the international cannabis community have remained largely focused on Germany to monitor any developments coming out of the country, which is home to Europe’s largest economy. Legalization has yet to become a reality in Germany, however, the legalization process has experienced no shortage of metaphorical fireworks, including the most recent developments that made headlines at the end of this week.
Scaled Back Legalization?
Towards the end of December 2022, certain lawmakers in Germany were seemingly already growing tired of the legalization process’ pace, as demonstrated by the blocking of funding to Germany’s Health Ministry due to perceived delays in a measure being formally introduced. Even prior to Minister Lauterbach’s presentation in October 2022 to the federal cabinet, a version of a legalization plan was leaked to the media. The legalization plan was perceived as being too restrictive, generated considerable public outcry at the time, and ultimately resulted in a less-restrictive plan being presented to the federal cabinet mere days after the leak initially occurred.
Much like a political pinball, Minister Lauterbach has bounced between the European Union and the Bundestag since October, with his legalization plan seeming to evolve on a somewhat rolling basis. In January 2023, Minister Lauterbach indicated publicly that he was ‘certain’ that the European Union would grant its approval and that a formal introduction of a legalization measure would occur ‘in the first quarter of this year.’ Minister Lauterbach added at the time according to the report, that he had ‘no reason to doubt this schedule.’ As anyone with access to a calendar will quickly notice, the first quarter of 2023 has passed, and yet, there is still no legalization measure introduced.
Instead, what surfaced at the end of the first quarter of 2023 were comments made by Minister Lauterbach which suggest that his legalization plan has regressed after talking to the European Union. According to domestic reports, the current plan does not involve national sales, but rather, pilot programs akin to what is going on in Switzerland. The pilot phase for legalization is reportedly planned for a four-year period. The two bright spots of Minster Lauterbach’s recent comments involve home cultivation and private cannabis clubs, which apparently don’t require European Union approval. Although, neither of those components is exactly shocking given that Malta has already passed a measure that included both components.
Domestic Political Checks And Balances
Until an adult-use legalization measure is formally introduced in Germany, the world will ultimately not know what legalization components will be involved. The desires of the European Union will have to be weighed against the demands of the current governing coalition in Germany, which as previously mentioned, has members that will presumably not accept a limited legalization model. Furthermore, some of them will not tolerate additional delays in a measure being formally introduced.
Obviously, Minister Lauterbach cannot please all stakeholders when it comes to a legalization measure, and his ultimate bosses are located in his home country. I am still of the opinion that there will be one or more leaks to the media in the coming weeks to further build domestic political pressure around Minister Lauterbach, urging him to disregard some concessions being reportedly demanded by the European Union. It certainly feels like a showdown is brewing in my opinion.
Domestic coverage indicates that a commissioned expert opinion report ordered by the German Federal Ministry of Health is not expected to be ready until the end of April. It’s quite possible that a formal introduction of a legalization measure may not occur until well after that particular report is finalized. After all, the expert opinion report is just one of the facets involved with the push to legalize cannabis in Germany. All the international cannabis community can do in the meantime is wait, and for those that live within Germany’s borders to keep the pressure on Minister Lauterbach and continue to urge him to step up and introduce a legalization measure that is meaningful and truly reflective of what German voters want.