Germany’s plans to become one of the biggest and best legal weed markets in the world have been held up by European Union officials.
The German government wanted to permit sales from licensed shops across the country as a central part of a new law to create a legal recreational cannabis market worth £3.3 billion in an attempt to regulate an unruly trade overseen by gangsters.
But after discussions with the European Union, it was agreed to postpone countrywide sales for five years until experiments in a small number of shops in regional pilot areas are assessed.
Announced by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, the new laws will however part-decriminalise cannabis, allowing the possession of up to 25 grams of weed for people aged 18 and over, and the cultivation of three plants at home for personal use.
The new law will also permit private cultivation and supply through non-profit “cannabis clubs” similar to networks already in operation in Spain, Malta and the Netherlands.
Fabian Steinmetz, a senior toxicologist and member of Germany’s Schildower Kreis expert drug network, described the slow progress as “snail racing after the snails had too many edibles”.
He said he was disappointed because “we still have people affected by law enforcement due to personal supply quantities” and “the malpractice of taking away driving licences, without evidence of impaired driving, is still going on”.
Medical weed was legalised in Germany in 2017 and producers in the country, who would cultivate all Germany’s legal weed under the plans, currently grow around 10 tonnes per year.
If the pilot commercial sales scheme is successful in protecting children and tackling the black market, sales will be rolled out nationally.
"The previous cannabis policy has failed. Now we have to go new ways," said Lauterbach at the press conference in Berlin. Despite the watering down of the new laws in order to fit in with EU drug regulations Lauterbach said he was confident full legalisation would happen in Germany and that the pilots would prove to be a success.
He added that Germany’s reform offered a “good chance” for cannabis laws to be changed across Europe.
There was similar optimism from experts who said Germany could well become a game changer for the rest of Europe.
“While the new plans could be seen as a scaled-down version of the original ones, in the sense that there won't be a ‘full’ legalisation right away, it could also be seen as positive,” German-based cannabis industry analyst Alfredo Pascual told VICE World News.
“It increases the chances of some cannabis reform being implemented before the next election. Moreover, the German [commercial sales] experiments, if implemented and successful, could have significant weight to change cannabis policies on a European level.”
Alastair Moore, co-founder of the Hanway Company, a UK-based cannabis industry advisor and investor, described EU law as a “hurdle” for Germany to overcome, but said “it is encouraging to see a major European nation being progressive about cannabis legalisation”. He said Germany’s intention, outlined in its plans, to promote a fresh approach to weed across Europe, showed it is a “champion for cannabis reform” on the continent.
Globally cannabis has been legalised in Uruguay, Canada, Malta and in 21 US states. Plans for legal weed in Luxembourg have been held back by the EU and in Mexico they have also stalled. In the coming week, Czechia is due to announce its model for legal weed.
But in 10 years time, Europe’s weed markets could look very different from those in the US and Canada, according to Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
“What we are seeing in Germany, Spain, Luxembourg and Malta is the emergence of a European legal cannabis model quite dramatically different to the commercial retail models in the US and Canada,” said Rolles. “One built more around home growing and not-for-profit membership clubs, largely stripped of the more problematic corporate profiteering. At least for now.”