Cannabis legalization in Germany

Road to weed legalization in Germany

Cannabis legalization has been a widely debated topic in Germany for several years. Germany has been relatively slow to adopt cannabis legalization compared to other countries, but it is finally starting to catch up. In 2017, the German government passed a law allowing for the use of medical marijuana, and since then, the industry has been growing at a rapid pace. Currently, patients with severe medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and epilepsy can access medical cannabis with a prescription from a doctor.

Following adoption for medical purpose, limited use of cannabis for recreational purpose is now permitted in Germany.

Germany’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis

The initial plan

Introduced in October 2022, a draft by the German health minister called “Controlled sale of cannabis: a legalization framework” has those initial plans for 2024:

  • Make it legal for adults to purchase and own up to 25g of cannabis for recreational use (50g per month).
  • Make it legal to grow up to three plants.
  • Advertising ban on recreational products.
  • Maximum THC content of 15%, 10% for adults between 18 & 21 years-old.
  • Cannabis should no longer be legally classified as a narcotic.

This was one of the key policies the coalition between SPD, Die Grüne & FDP agreed upon when forming a government in 2021.

The move was one of the key policies agreed upon by Germany’s coalition partners dubbed the “Traffic Light Coalition” – the Social Democrats, Greens and the liberal FDP – when they formed a government at the end of 2021.

The plan to was to proceed in 2 steps:

  1. In the first step, recreational cannabis for personal consumption will be made legal as laid out above.
  2. The second steps is about regulating the sale of the cannabis itself. Initially, the law had planned for a public monopol over distribution via state-owned shops. This has changed in response to the European Commission, which famously doesn’t like public monopols. Instead “Cannabis clubs” will be the only organizations allowed to distribute the product. Each club is expected to have a maximum of 500 members, with clubs responsible for production.

The actual cannabis legalization law:

On February 23, 2024, the German Bundestag passed the law on the controlled handling of cannabis and changes to other regulations (Cannabis Act – Cannabisgesetz). On March 22, 2024, the Cannabisgesetz was discussed and approved in the Federal Council. 

Since April 1st 2024, the following applies:

  • Adults over 18 can possess up to 25 gr of cannabis in public, up to 50 gr at home & up to 3 plants at home.
  • By July 2024, cannabis social clubs will be the sole permitted places of distribution. Those clubs are non-profit with a maximum of 500 members each.
  • Only German residents will be able to become members, tourists and visitors won’t be allowed.
  • Use of cannabis is not permitted around schools, kindergartens, sports facilities, playgrounds & stations.
  • Commercial sales for-profit remains prohibited.

Hurdles to weed legalization in Germany

Apart from gathering a successful vote in the federal parliament and aligning health authorities at a regional level, Germany’s plans to legalize marijuana went against some international treaties.

EU law

Most recreational cannabis efforts are now prohibited in the EU. Many marijuana-related activities are illegal under a 2004 Council ruling on drug trafficking. Given that cannabis production is now illegal in the EU, Germany’s proposals would necessitate a change in EU legislation. The German government has stated that it is willing to make “to individual changes/updates at EU level,” to work with its policies.

This was uncharted territory for the EU, as there was no precedence of a member country establishing a market for a substance outlawed in the Schengen region.

Germany is a part of Europe’s border-free Schengen Zone, and rules now ban the import of illicit narcotics across European borders. As a result, Germany needed to demonstrate that it can closely monitor border crossings while without undermining its neighbor’s drug policy.

International law

By legalizing recreational cannabis, Germany went again international law. The 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs forbids governments from producing and trafficking cannabis for reasons other than medicinal or scientific research.

Berlin might either withdraw from the agreement, which could take up to a year, or choose to disregard it, as Canada has done.

Legal status of cannabis worldwide in 2023

With Germany’s policy depending on EU approval, it is unlikely anything will change in 2024. Right now, the geopolitical agenda is focused on the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis as well the rising inflation. Legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Germany is not on top of the list.

In March 2023, The Green Party’s Cem Özdemir, minister for agriculture, said that a draft law to this effect “is coming in April.”

Where to buy cannabis legally in Germany?

You can currently only buy foods with low levels of THC in them (less than 0,2%) in supermarkets and common shops everywhere in Germany.

CBD-based products are derived from marijuana or hemp. They are also freely available offline or online, although its relaxing properties are only partly-proven in a lot of cases.

In Germany, buying weed in cities like Berlin in the streets is illegal & dangerous. Substances found on the streets are often tainted, and not safe to consume.

How to stay informed on this topic

Here are good resources to stay on top of those issues: