Nicholas Marray @ The Green Lens
It’s an optimistic view, but by the end of the decade, I believe the landscape of Europe’s relationship with cannabis will be completely overhauled. Though probably not for the same reasons as the public as more and more financial talking heads are starting to come around to the idea of legalisation. The profiteering the legal cannabis industry has incurred has shifted the discussion away from how dangerous legalisation would be for society to now assessing exactly how much will it generate for the economy. The boogieman that reefer madness produced has lost its bark and now it’s a case of politicians staring straight at the economic benefits of legalisation where before, any notion was ignored with half-arsed references to anti-cannabis propaganda.
This mentality is propped up and funded by industries that look to lose out in a world where instead of drinking alcohol to take the edge off, people can choose to smoke a joint, instead of a cocktail of pain medication to alleviate chronic aches and pains, people can choose to consume cannabis-infused food products which have been proven to be as effective as opioids, which are among the most potent pain-relieving drugs in the world. While the opposition continues to demonise the plant, forward-thinking politicians are amassing and shedding light on the discussion as more people are beginning to look upon the situation differently. Like a budding business would use Porter’s Five Forces to assess market conditions for a new set-up, the attitudes and stigmas associated with cannabis use are dwindling which has paved the way for governments to acknowledge the benefits it will bring but not before assessing how many markets would be affected by its legalisation.
While we wait on tenterhooks for the Irish government to entertain such discussion, we can in the meantime set our sights on one of the most powerful members of the European Union. Over the next two years, Germany is expected to become the biggest cannabis market in the world with plans to legalise the drug pressing forward despite opposition concerns over the health impact. Approximately 4 million adults in Germany consume cannabis and Ministers say the new laws will put safety first, though if passed, it will also create opportunities for businesses potentially worth billions. So where does Germany currently stand? Let’s start with the current legal situation.
Since 2017, medical cannabis has been legal in Germany so it is possible to buy, grow or import cannabis for medical purposes. According to the German Narcotics Act , authorisation is necessary for all forms of businesses with medical cannabis. The calculation of medical cannabis is handled utilizing a tender process, the German cannabis agency appointed three companies that are now allowed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Germany in a total amount of 10,400 kilograms and only for four years.
Patients can have access to medical cannabis in the form of dried flower or extracts only if they have a prescription by their physician and only in case of a very serious illness, but in the case that all of these requirements are met, the patients have the right to get reimbursed by the German health insurer for cannabis therapy. On the other hand, recreational use of cannabis is not permitted in Germany yet. So, what is the plan to change this? The current German government was elected in September 2021 and plans to legalise recreational cannabis in Germany. According to the coalition treaty between the three governing parties of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), environmentalist Greens, and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the government plans a controlled distribution of recreational cannabis to adults and only in licensed shops. So, in general, it’s very good news for the industry but there are many questions regarding the legalisation which are still open, for example, in which licence stores shall the cannabis be sold?
Some argue that only pharmacists shall be allowed to sell cannabis for recreational purposes because they already have experience with the plant and the professional background to oversee its retail. But others argue that in this case, the hurdles would be too high for people to buy, and with the only available legal source confined to pharmacists, it will push those to continue to purchase from the black market. Another big problem is how the increasing demand will be met. Experts estimate that the cannabis grown in Germany would by far not be enough to meet the newly increased demand for recreational use and that Germany very much would depend on imports from other countries. However, imports and exports of recreational cannabis from other countries are forbidden at the moment by international law. Therefore, it remains to be seen how the legalisation of recreational cannabis will be implemented in German law and what the details will look like. Lastly, what is the current time for the legalisation?
The coalition treaty did not set a certain time frame for the realisation of the legalisation. Due to other important topics like the Ukraine crisis and the COVID pandemic, it seemed that legalisation is not the most pressing issue for the new government. However, recently it became public that the budget committee of the General Parliament put pressure on the Federal Ministry of Health by threatening to block funds in case the Health Ministry didn’t possess a draft for the legalisation by the end of the year. So, the Ministry of Health now announced that they will publish the draft in the second half of this year, however, it will still take some time until the new law will come into force since it will have to pass the German Parliament and German Federal Council, so it may not come into force until the end of the 2023 or even 2024.
The demand for such change is compounded by a recent report on drug-related crime from the Federal Criminal Police Office which found only 1 in 6 cases of cannabis arrests are to do with drug dealing with approximately 30,000 of 190,000 cases defined as “consumption-related offenses”. Prohibition predominately affects recreational smokers compared to the bigger fish such legislation intends to catch.
Burkhard Blienert, of the Social Democratic Party stated “I want a regulated market. Decriminalization goes along with that,” emphasized the drug commissioner. “It is better not to break things down into individual elements now, but instead to think everything through together. We want a comprehensive result.”  It’s a foregone conclusion that Germany will legalise cannabis but no one can accurately tell when. Such a decision will no doubt have a rippling effect across the entire EU as countries dragging their heels on the issue will struggle to convince the public to remain complacent as a major success story originating from Germany may be what tips the pendulum in favour of cannabis users across Europe.