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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany's plan to legalise cannabis

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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany's plan to legalise cannabis
A picture taken on August 10, 2019 in Berlin shows a national flag bearing a marijuana leaf during the 23rd Hanfparade, a traditional German-wide pro-Cannabis march, to ask for its legalisation. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

On Wednesday Germany's coalition government unveiled a plan to allow private cannabis use, including at special 'clubs'. Here's what you need to know about the proposal, and what the reaction has been.

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What’s going on?

Germany has scrapped plans to allow the widespread sale of cannabis in licensed stores for the time being, following EU concerns.

On Wednesday the coalition government unveiled a watered-down, two-stage plan that would still allow adults to possess cannabis in small amounts but wouldn't allow it to be sold in pharmacies and other shops nationwide.  

While the details may have changed, the "original goals" have not, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told a press conference, listing the government's priorities as "safer consumption, tackling the black market, protecting young people". 

Back in October, Berlin had announced proposals to introduce some of Europe's most liberal cannabis laws, with legal weed sold in pharmacies and other licensed premises across the country. 

Medical marijuana has been legal in Germany since 2017, with its sale and distribution tightly controlled through approved governmental dispensaries, but the plans would have created a widespread legal industry for recreational use as well. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany sets out plans for cannabis legalisation

What does the new proposal entail?

The first stage of the new plan would permit the establishment of "cannabis clubs": non-profit groups of up to 500 members that are allowed to cultivate and purchase the drug for personal use.

In addition, growing and possessing a certain amount of weed would be decriminalised under the plans. In future, people should be allowed to possess up to 25 grams (0.9 ounces) of cannabis and grow up to three plants at home - provided they are safely out of the reach of children.

Minors would still be prohibited from consuming the drug.

A draft bill related to the cannabis clubs should be ready later this month before being presented the cabinet and MPs for approval.

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"Consumption will still become legal this year," Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir told the press conference.

A second stage would involve testing -- in regions yet to be chosen, over a five-year period -- the production and sale of cannabis in specially licensed stores.

Widespread sale of the drug across the country - as envisaged in the original plan - was not possible under EU law. 

However, Lauterbach said the pilot project could serve as a model at the European level and lead to a change in the law, adding that he had had encouraging discussions with other countries on the subject.

Legalisation of cannabis was one of the flagship policies agreed by Germany's coalition partners - the Social Democrats, Greens and the liberal FDP - when they formed a government in late 2021. 

The government now wants to finalise the proposed legislation by the end of the spring parliamentary session.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: German ministers present draft law on cannabis legislation

What exactly do ‘cannabis clubs’ entail?

According to the plans, non-profit ‘clubs’ with a maximum of 500 members will be allowed to collectively grow cannabis for “pleasure purposes” and only distribute it to members for their own consumption. The minimum age to join such a club would be 18. 

The clubs must appoint officers in charge of youth protection, addiction and prevention and would not be allowed to advertise themselves. People would also be prohibited from becoming a member of more than one club at a time.

Lauterbach Özdemir Cannabis
Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir and Health Minister karl Lauterbach present plans for a partial legalisation of cannabis in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

The German Hemp Association sees the club model only as an interim solution, as they are mainly designed for people who consume a lot. 

READ ALSO: Germany's homegrown cannabis industry awaits legalisation

"For occasional consumers of cannabis, the hurdles of membership are too high," spokesman Georg Wurth told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Thursday. 

But he described the clubs as a “good start”.

The clubs would follow a similar model to those already existing in fellow EU member states Malta and Spain. In Spain, a Cannabis Social Club (CSC) is a non-profit organization that gives members a private space to consume cannabis. 

These clubs are legally allowed to cultivate a set amount of the plant for their members and to distribute it among them. Members in turn pay an annual membership fee. 

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What is the reaction around Germany?

The proposed legislation drew sharp criticism from the opposition in parliament.

The government is "fundamentally on the wrong track," tweeted Markus Söder, leader of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the main opposition CDU.

"Drug legalisation is simply the wrong way to go. Karl Lauterbach, as minister of health, seriously proposes the establishment of drug clubs. This does not solve problems, but creates new ones."

The GdP police union also said it did not believe the plans would do much to curb the illegal cannabis trade, the group's deputy chairman Alexander Poitz told the RND media group.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Kiffen

Man smoking cannabis

A man smokes at the 'Global Marijuana March 2022' at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The parliamentary secretary of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Thorsten Frei (CDU), called the plans "dangerous and naive" in the Rheinische Post on Thursday. "We will clearly reject such nonsense in the Bundestag."

But the general reaction hasn't been all negative.

"We welcome that Karl Lauterbach now wants to put the protection of children and adolescents in the foreground." Jakob Maske, spokesman of the Professional Association of Paediatricians and Adolescent Doctors, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung on Thursday. "How exactly he wants to do this is not clear from the current draft."

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The Federal Government Commissioner on Narcotic Drugs, Burkhard Blienert (SPD), spoke of a "milestone for drug policy".

But there is still a fair bit of work to be done, he told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe on Thursday. 

Particularly important to him was the mandatory cooperation of the planned clubs with local addiction prevention and addiction support organisations.

With reporting from AFP.

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