Germany’s plans to legalize adult-use cannabis were leaked last week, and while a legalization bill has yet to be formally introduced, medical cannabis stakeholders are cautiously optimistic about the initial blueprint for a regulatory framework.
“People are keeping a close eye on Germany to see what happens, and if we succeed, it will be great news for the cannabis industry and for the cannabis plant in Europe,” says Niklas Kouparanis, CEO of Bloomwell Group, one of Germany’s largest medical cannabis operators.
A “cornerstone paper” that has been circulating among government officials leaked to the RND newspaper group Oct. 19. The paper, essentially a blueprint for how Germany plans to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis, stems from a months-long inquiry by Burkhard Blienert, Germany’s commissioner on narcotic drugs.
Any forthcoming legalization bill would be based on Blienert’s plan, which proposes decriminalizing the purchase and possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis for adults, as well as legalizing the cultivation of up to two plants at home.
Blienert’s plan also includes licensing shops to sell adult-use cannabis, as well as potentially allowing pharmacies to distribute cannabis to consumers. There would be a 15% cap on THC in adult-use cannabis products, and a lower, 10% THC limit for young adults aged 18 to 21.
In addition, the proposal would require Germany to produce its adult-use cannabis domestically to avoid any potential conflicts with international law.
Germany legalized medical cannabis in 2017, and the coalition that came to power last year announced plans for additional policy reform during its campaign.
Niklas says that there has been a lot of public pressure in the past 12 months to legalize cannabis, and the Health Ministry has made it a priority. The government held expert hearings on the issue this past summer, he adds, and Health Ministry has since been working on the cornerstone paper.
“Germany’s moving fast, … and what is important to mention now regarding the leaked paper is that is just a draft, … and it’s still a preliminary version,” Niklas says. “They haven’t talked to the other ministries about it right now, … but nevertheless, we’ve got some insights about how Germany’s planning to legalize cannabis.”
Strengths and Weaknesses
While Niklas says the leaked cornerstone paper is “a good sign,” he is concerned about a few of the provisions included in the proposal.
For example, he says the low THC caps could fuel the illicit market.
“I think the goal is to start with that, but I think in the future, we will have to reconsider that THC limit because every person who wants to have cannabis which is above 15% [THC] has to get it from the illicit market or has to become a patient,” Niklas says.
Relying on domestic cultivation also raises red flags for Niklas, who says Germany currently produces roughly 2.7 tons of cannabis annually for its medical market. With a population of 84 million, Niklas estimates that the country will need to produce up to 400 tons annually to supply the adult-use market.
“We cannot satisfy that right now,” he says. “It’ll take some time after legalization to satisfy it with the domestic cultivation. Unfortunately, imports are not allowed. That would be something I would change immediately. But nevertheless, if you read between the lines of the framework paper, it’s not completely off the table. What the Health Ministry is saying is, according to international law and EU law, they’re not able to [import adult-use cannabis] now, but they might consider it in the future. Again, legalizing cannabis will not happen overnight. It’s a paced approach, and we need something to start.”
The cornerstone paper is only the first step in Germany’s journey to legalize cannabis; the government’s plan still needs approval from the European Commission and its member states.
“That will be done through a so-called interpretation paper, which is basically handed in to the European Commission, and the member states and the European Commission can decide if they have some points they would like to revise, or they can just pass it through and Germany can do what it wants to do, which is legalize cannabis,” Niklas says.
Once submitted, the commission has three months to respond to Germany’s proposal. If commissioners ultimately send feedback on the plan to Germany’s government, the government then has three months to revise and resubmit its proposal to the commission.
“The whole process could be done in three months, looking at the beginning of next year, or it could be done in six months, nine months—we’re not sure about that,” says Anna-Sophia Kouparanis, Bloomwell’s co-founder. “But we are very certain there will be at least one member state or one member of the EU Commission who will want to reconsider one or two points of the interpretation paper.”
Once Germany’s legalization plan receives approval from the commission, lawmakers must introduce a formal legalization bill for discussion and—ultimately—passage in German Parliament, called the Bundestag.
Niklas estimates that Germany will legalize adult-use cannabis by the first quarter of 2024.
If Germany legalizes cannabis for both medical and adult-use purposes, cannabis will be declassified, no longer considered a narcotic substance under the nation’s drug laws. That will not only open the door for adult-use consumers, but also improve access for Germany’s medical cannabis patients, Niklas says.
“In the future, if you see legalization coming and the retail of cannabis not being a narcotic substance anymore, it would make our life way easier, and of course, we would have a run on the medical market because the barriers to be a patient will be lower,” he says.
Anna-Sophia adds that adult-use legalization could also streamline the process for cannabis imports and bringing new products to market.
“Registering a new product will be a lot easier because we will not have all of the narcotic drug laws to follow,” she says. “There is a lot of bureaucracy falling away for us as a medical operator, but also the doctor and the patient, obviously.”
Bloomwell currently operates under an e-commerce and delivery model, which Niklas says will likely continue after adult-use legalization.
“Written in the cornerstone paper is that e-commerce will be allowed under strict regulations, but nevertheless, it will be allowed,” he says. “So, we will not only have brick-and-mortar businesses—pharmacies and dispensaries—but you will also have delivery.”
While the adult-use business licensing process is not set out in detail in the cornerstone paper, Niklas is confident that Bloomwell will eventually receive a license to serve the broader market.
“Right now, we are operating under the highest regulations there are … under the medical umbrella,” he says. “For us, getting a license will be pretty easy because we know all the responsible authorities. We’re already in great relationships with them, and we are operating under the highest of regulations.”
And, Niklas says, once Germany officially legalizes adult-use cannabis, other European countries are sure to follow.
“It’s very important to highlight that if the process works, how Germany does it right now, it will definitely have a domino effect on the other EU member states,” he says. “If Germany achieves legalization, then a lot of other countries will follow … in the next three to five years.”