Though the name of the German political party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, or Die Grünen (the Greens), refers primarily to their former single-issue environmentalist mission, the party has long advocated for the decriminalization and legalization of another kind of green: marijuana.
Now, Germany’s governing coalition has finally started moving to make this part of their platform a reality.
Starting as a series of fringe environmental parties that eventually merged into its current form, the Grünen worked their way up into the Bundestag, slowly expanding their platform and increasing their seats. Finally, in December 2021, the Grünen joined the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland (SPD) and the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) in forming the currently governing Traffic Light Coalition, named for the colors commonly assigned to the three parties.
The contract that formalized the policy goals of the coalition stated that they planned to introduce the purchase of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes through specially licensed businesses. But despite this clearly stated goal, the coalition has encountered major problems trying to turn this into reality.
One hurdle is that the full commercial legalization of marijuana would conflict with multiple European Union laws. Germany is within the Schengen Area, an area including 27 European countries between which free travel is allowed without the need for passports or border control. This means that the country is bound by the 1985 Schengen Agreement to take all necessary measures to prevent the distribution of addictive or psychoactive substances, including cannabis, across its borders. This legal complication is only one of many, as multiple EU laws mandate minimum criminal conditions for the sale and distribution of drugs.
In light of these conflicts, the Traffic Light Coalition has scaled back their marijuana legalization plans, splitting the process up into two steps. This new plan hopes to avoid the legal issues in the first step, allowing at least a partial legalization as soon as possible and a commercial expansion once they receive a green light from the EU. The first step legalizes the consumption of marijuana, though the places and times of consumption are still strictly regulated. Adults can carry a maximum of 25 grams of marijuana, own up to three female plants, cannot smoke near schools or daycares, and can only consume publicly in pedestrian zones after 8 p.m.
Since the biggest legal conflicts concerned the commercial sale of marijuana, step one of the proposed legislation allows the purchase of marijuana only from non-profit-oriented “Cannabis Social Clubs,” which one can buy membership into to regularly receive harvests from communally grown marijuana plants. This endeavors to avoid immediately creating a large-scale drug economy and to limit drug tourism to Germany, as buying into these clubs is a longer-term commitment inaccessible to tourists. Since the announcement, Cannabis Social Clubs have already started forming and accepting membership applications in preparation for the new law. Anyone above the age of 18 is eligible to apply for membership, though there are additional restrictions for those under the age of 21.
Once the first step is complete, the coalition hopes to pass its second step, which would begin the process of marijuana commercialization. Specifically selected model regions could start the commercial sale of marijuana while accompanied by scientific observation for five years, after which the data would be analyzed and the program evaluated. Multiple cities have already expressed interest in becoming one of these model regions, including Frankfurt, Bremen, and Munich.
The proposal has drawn widespread criticism from the Christlich Demokratische Union/Christlich-Soziale Union (CDU/CSU) as well as the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AFD), while all other major parties generally support legalization. CSU politicians question youth safety, with Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek calling the idea that legalization could lead to increased youth protection “a bad joke.” There has also been criticism from police unions, stating that the proposed law is “suitable to be an economic stimulus package for the black market.” In addition, police unions have criticized the lengthy and specific safety measures required by the law as they believe them to be unenforceable. For example, the proposed ban on consuming marijuana within 200 meters of youth facilities is impossible given the lack of accurate locational data, they argue.
On the other hand, criticism has also come from within the coalition. Kristine Lütke (FDP) opposes the upper possession limit of 25 grams, arguing, “We don’t control how much liquor or wine someone stores in their cellar.” The law has ballooned to over 200 pages in length in response to centrist and right-leaning criticism, and now progressive politicians fear that the rules are too strict to be effective. Kirsten Kappert-Gonther (Grüne) says, “The bureaucratic hurdles for the Cannabis Clubs cannot be too high. It must remain practical in order to reach the goal of creating an alternative for the black market, to implement youth and health protections.” This runs alongside fears that more conservative local governments could use these strict regulations to delay the approval of and create bottlenecks around the actual creation and operation of the Social Clubs.
The law goes much too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, as with any major legal change. The prospect of a non-commercial marijuana sector in Germany is relatively novel, though it was born only out of necessity due to EU law. The first scheduled Bundestag debate on the proposed law was slated for Oct. 13, but was canceled at the last minute in light of the escalating military conflict between Israel and Hamas. The rescheduled debate took place on October 18, and some optimistic estimates hope for step one of legalization by the new year.