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Germany is going through changes. Not only did the country just elect new government officials yesterday in a national election, but longstanding Chancellor Angela Merkel already stated she’s stepping down. Possibly due to this, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union lost to the Social Democrats in the election, signaling a political change in Germany, which could lead to a recreational cannabis legalization.
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Germany and cannabis
As with nearly every European country (with the strange exception of Georgia), recreational cannabis is illegal in Germany. Having said that, Georgia did legalize the recreational use of cannabis, but without legalizing cultivation, sale, or a regulated market, meaning there is no actual industry. If Germany were to pass a recreational legalization bill, it would still be the first European country to set up a regulated market, and the first EU country to do either a legalization, or a regulated market. But, we’re not there just yet.
In Germany, cannabis is recreationally illegal at the moment, and is regulated through the German Federal Narcotics Act. Simple possession can incur up to five years in prison. Weirdly enough, there’s no law against actual use, so those caught using are more likely to be put in a program than face a more serious punishment. This is not always the case past a first offence, however, and is also dependent on the person being caught with a ‘small quantity’ only.
How much is a ‘small quantity’? The term isn’t defined specifically, and varies throughout different parts of Germany. It can be anywhere from 6-15 grams depending on location, although, in Germany, it’s not just about the amount in weight, but the amount of THC within, so the potency can help determine the amount.
As there is no regulated market, sale and supply crimes are illegal, and offenders can incur up to five years for more basic crimes, and up to 15 years depending on extenuating circumstances. Cultivation crimes are also illegal and are punished with the same jail time as sale and supply crimes.
Medical cannabis has been legal in some capacity since 1998, with a major expansion in 2017 to cover more illnesses, start domestic production, and allow for more imports and exports.
Germany has the largest cannabis market in Europe at the moment. In 2019, it was 2nd in the world for cannabis oil imports, and 4th in the world for cannabis oil exports. Prohibition Partners estimates that as of March 2020, Germany had approximately 128,000 patients that receive medical cannabis per year, though BfArM – The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, was not able to give more specific information.
In Q4 of 2020, Germany imported 3,264 kilograms of cannabis, for a total of 9,249 kilograms for 2020. The import market has seen a 100% year over year increase between 2018-2020. Germany is just starting its domestic supply market, which is expected to filter another 2,600 kilograms into the market.
The new government which is being put together from the election, is the key to Germany and a cannabis legalization. On September 26th, 2021, Germany held National Bundestag elections to institute a new government. The announcement of current-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stepping down means that after many years, Germany is about to introduce new leadership.
Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005, making for a 16-year reign. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU), which itself is a partnership between the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, has led a coalition government for just as long. Perhaps Merkel stepped down because she felt tides turning. Or perhaps the election outcome was a result of the knowledge of her impending departure. Either way, after many years of the same thing, Germany voted for something new.
The Social Democrats and the Union were a part of the same government coalition prior to the election. Now that they are no longer part of the same coalition government, they are not necessarily voting partners anymore. The two parties have differing beliefs on many topics, like cannabis, and how it should be handled. Whereas the Union is for keeping cannabis illegal, the Social Democrats are for legalization, along with other parties like the Greens. Of the three top parties in the election in Germany, two are pro-legalization for cannabis, the Social Democrats, and the Greens. THe 4th is the Free Democratic Party, and it supports legalization as well.
The Social Democrats (SPD) and the Union have been voting partners in the past, which is the reason a legalization bill didn’t pass last year, despite there technically being enough support to pass it. In the past, the Union was the biggest party, beating out the SPDs. This time around, the outcome flipped.
In this election, the Social Democrats (center-left) narrowly beat out the Union (center-right), 25.9% to 24.1%. The Social Democrats won 206 parliamentary seats, the Union got 196, The Greens (left) took 118, the Free Democratic Party (FDP, liberal) won 92, Alternative for Germany (AfD, right-wing populist) got 83, the Left (democratic-socialist) got 39, and South Schleswig Voter’s Association (SSW, social-liberals) got 1. Since there is no majority here, a coalition government must be formed.
Since 2005, the Christian Democrats have formed coalitions with different parties. In 2005 it was a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, in 2009 with the Free Democratic Party, in 2013 and 2017, it formed grand coalitions with the Social Democrats again. Some see it as stabilizing to have a government of the two top parties, some see it as a threat to have such a homogenous government. It is quite possible that the two parties will partner once again, but there is also the chance that other things could happen. It’s expected this could be a long and difficult process given how close the votes were.
Its’s also quite possible that for the first time in a while, the Union could be shut out. If a coalition government is formed between the Social Democrats, Greens, and Free democratic Party, this would mean a very different government than the past eight years. In a situation like this, all parties are pro-cannabis. Whether it would actually happen or not though, is hard to say.
However, even if this full coalition doesn’t happen, the Social Democrats have apparently already signaled that they would like to partner with the Greens. Even two strong pro-cannabis-reform parties together could do it. If those two parties partner up, cannabis legislation can be expected. Because of the strong showing for the Free Democrats, this goes for them as well, making several different ways in which this election can lead Germany into passing recreational cannabis legislation.
What happened last time?
A cannabis legalization bill was put forward last year that would have instituted a regulated adult-use market. On October 29th of the year, it was rejected in parliament, and this was mainly due to the coalition between the Union and the Social Democrats. Though the Social Democrats are for legalization, the Union is heavily against. Since the two parties voted together, the Social Democrats voted against legalization. If they are no longer paired in the future, a future vote could turn out very differently.
At the time the bill died, the Social Democrats held 152 seats, the Union held 264, and the Greens held 67. Looking at the most recent election, and things have certainly shifted in Germany, opening the door wider for topics like cannabis reform. Given that the Union had a 41.5% majority in 2013, and is down to around 24% now, it shows a change in thoughts and opinions. It’s not shocking the bill died last year, as the government wasn’t constructed to allow it to pass.
Since the time the Union was so strong in 2013, public sentiment has gone in a different direction concerning marijuana. The German Hemp Association conducts polls yearly on legalization. In 2014, when it started, the percentage for pro-legalization was 30%, and went up to 46% within only a few years. The organization stopped polling for opinions on decriminalization in 2018, when the percentage reached 59%.
Germany is the biggest country in the EU, with the strongest economy. Its already a dominating factor in the international medical cannabis industry. A legalization there could create a large, and strong cannabis market. As the election results are still rather raw, its impossible to know how things will pan out. Politics involve many things we don’t see as private citizens, so to a certain degree we’ll have to be patient, and allow things some time to work themselves out. In the coming months, there should be a lot of talk coming out on this, and the conversation about legalization should get even stronger.
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A legislative panel assembled to study the legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland began work last Wednesday, laying out plans to draft a referendum ballot measure for next year’s general election. The working group of 10 members of the Maryland House of Delegates is tasked with creating a plan to legalize cannabis for use by adults while addressing the harms created and perpetuated by the failed War on Drugs.
“This work group will establish the legal framework necessary to fully implement the legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us,” Delegate Luke H. Clippinger, the chair of the House Cannabis Workgroup, said at Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the panel.
The bipartisan legislative group was appointed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones in July. She said then that she would like to see a cannabis legalization referendum on the ballot for the November 2022 election.
“While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones said at the time. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters, but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”
The group will study issues related to cannabis legalization including the licensing and oversight of businesses cultivating, processing and retailing recreational marijuana. The panel also plans to discuss the expungement of previous marijuana convictions, social equity measures to address the harms caused by prohibition and ways to encourage equitable representation in the cannabis industry.
“The speaker has been clear with me that we will do this with an eye towards equity and in consideration to Black and Brown neighborhoods and businesses that have been historically impacted by cannabis use,” Clippinger said.
Ensuring Racial Equity in Legalization
The work group heard from John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow on governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who has researched cannabis policy. He said that fully addressing the harms of marijuana prohibition is a complex issue, noting that cannabis policy has always been discriminatory.
“That wasn’t accidental; it was by design,” Hudak said.
Hudak cited data from the ACLU that shows that Black folks in Maryland are more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a cannabis-related crime, despite similar rates of use among the two groups.
“The war on drugs, and, and really the war on cannabis, specifically, sits at the heart of the ability of a system to persecute by prosecuting, particularly people of color, in creating the types of racial inequities that we see institutionalized throughout the United States,” he said.
Pointing to Illinois, New York and New Jersey as examples of cannabis legalization plans that were created with racial equity in mind, Hudak recommended what he characterized as a three-pronged approach to reform. In addition to expungement of low-level cannabis offenses and ensuring inclusive ownership in the industry, Hudak noted that those states also included investment in social infrastructure including education, childcare and job training as part of their legalization plans.
“That’s an important step again to reverse the effects of the war on drugs, and to recognize that the laws that were in place for decades were not just discriminatory, but they were devastating for many individuals and the communities from which they hail,” said Hudak.
But Hudak also noted that cannabis legalization by itself is not enough to end arrests for marijuana offenses, saying that broader reforms are also needed.
“Part of that conversation… also has to include work within law enforcement agencies, work on policing, work on community policing—work on issues that I know this legislature is taking up in the context of police reform in a variety of areas beyond drug policy,” he said. “But there’s no better place to have that conversation than in the conversation around marijuana legalization.”
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