Germany unveils cannabis liberalisation plan

A protester holds a mock joint during the so-called hemp parade demanding the legalization of cannabis in Berlin in August 2009

Germany’s health minister has unveiled a plan to decriminalise the possession of up to 30 grams (about 1oz) of cannabis and to allow the sale of the drug to adults for recreational purposes in a controlled market.

Berlin will check with the European Union’s executive commission whether the plan approved by the German government is in line with EU laws and will proceed with legislation only if it gets the green light, Karl Lauterbach said.

He said the new rules could serve “as a model for Europe” but that “realistically, they won’t take effect before 2024”.

The plan calls for cannabis to be grown under licence and sold to adults at licensed outlets to combat the black market. Individuals would be allowed to grow up to three plants, and to buy or possess 20-30 grams of marijuana.

German health minister Karl Lauterbach unveiled plans to decriminalise the possession of up to 30g of cannabis and allow the sale of the drug to adults for recreational purposes

Mr Lauterbach said that, if the legislation comes into force, “this would be, on the one hand, the most liberal cannabis liberalisation in Europe, and, on the other hand, it would also be the most tightly regulated market”.

He said “better youth and health protection” are the key aims of the government’s proposal.

“It could be a model for Europe,” which has a patchwork of often restrictive laws, he said.

The minister, who for a long time was himself sceptical about cannabis legalisation, argued that the current system is not working, with consumption rising and the illegal market flourishing.

He said four million people in Germany, a nation of 83 million, used cannabis last year and a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds have used it.

Mr Lauterbach said Germany does not want to emulate the model long practised by the Netherlands, Germany’s north-western neighbour, which combines decriminalisation with little market regulation.

Germany will examine whether cannabis can be consumed where it is sold, but it does not currently plan to allow that, Mr Lauterbach said. The same goes for the sale of the drug in edible form.

Shops that sold cannabis would not be allowed also to sell alcohol or tobacco products, and could not be located near schools.

The government does not plan to set a price, but does intend to set quality requirements, the health minister said.

He left open whether a “cannabis tax” above and beyond the standard sales tax, which could be used to fund information on the risks of the drug, would be levied but said the product should not be made so expensive that it cannot compete with the black market.

The cannabis plan is one of a series of reforms outlined in last year’s coalition deal between the three socially liberal parties in chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government. They agreed at the time that the “social effects” of the new legislation would be examined after four years.

Among other liberalising plans, the government has removed from Germany’s criminal code a ban on doctors “advertising” abortion services.

It also wants to ease the path to German citizenship, lift restrictions on dual citizenship, and reduce the minimum age for voting in national and European elections from 18 to 16.

The government also wants to scrap 40-year-old legislation that requires transsexual people to get a psychological assessment and a court decision before officially changing gender, a process that often involves intimate questions. It is due to be replaced with a new “self-determination law”.

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