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Germany plans to legalise recreational cannabis

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Germany’s coalition government has agreed on a plan to legalise recreational cannabis use among adults.

Possession of up to 30g (1oz) for personal use would be allowed. Licensed shops and pharmacies would sell it.

The plan has yet to be approved in parliament – but also receive the green light by the European Commission. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the plan could become law in 2024.

In the EU only Malta has legalised recreational cannabis.

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The Netherlands has not gone as far as the German plan – under Dutch law, the sale of small quantities of cannabis in “coffee shops” is tolerated.

The German plan would also allow home cultivation of three cannabis plants per adult.

The move was envisaged in the coalition government’s manifesto, announced last year. The Social Democrats (SPD) lead the coalition, with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats as partners.

Several countries have legalised limited use of medicinal cannabis. Canada and Uruguay have also legalised recreational cannabis.

In the US, 37 states and Washington DC have legalised medical cannabis, while 19 states have approved it for recreational use. That represents well over 40% of the US population.

German ban ‘unsuccessful’

Presenting the plan, Mr Lauterbach said decriminalisation would help protect the health of young people, because the cannabis ban had had “no evident success” in recent years.

He noted that cannabis consumption had risen, as had drug addiction among adults. “We want to regulate the market very firmly,” he stressed.

He said the government would consider a possible restriction on the maximum strength of cannabis products sold to adults aged under 21. That would involve monitoring the level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient in the drug.

Mr Lauterbach said his government was submitting its plan to the EU Commission to check that it complied with EU treaties.

Those – and the Schengen Agreement that facilitates free travel among 26 countries – set out rules obliging even users of cannabis for medicinal purposes to obtain a certificate before travelling to another country.

Some scientific studies have linked potent strains of cannabis to an increased risk of psychosis, especially among younger people. But the health impact of cannabis is still hotly debated.

There is some evidence also that regular cannabis users can get addicted to it.

Under the German plan, the advertising or mailing of cannabis would remain prohibited. The government also plans to boost information campaigns about cannabis use and its risks, especially targeting the young.

Besides sales tax (VAT), the price of regulated cannabis sold would also include a government “cannabis tax”.

The conservative government in Bavaria condemned the plan. Klaus Holetschek of the Christian Social Union (CSU) said it “sends a dangerous signal not only to Germany, but to the whole of Europe”. He warned that legalisation could encourage European “drug tourism” in Germany.

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Cannabis in Europe

The Netherlands: Since 1976 the authorities have tolerated cannabis use in coffee shops, but in wider society the drug remains illegal. Adults can buy up to 5g daily in coffee shops and smoke joints there. Commercial cultivation or marketing of cannabis is illegal.

Switzerland: The state has decriminalised possession of small amounts of mild cannabis (below 1% THC) for personal use. Medicinal cannabis is legal and can be prescribed by doctors.

Italy: Possession of 1.5g or less for personal use is tolerated, and medicinal cannabis is legal, but recreational cannabis remains illegal.

France: All cannabis use is illegal; the first medicinal cannabis trials began last year.

Portugal: In 2001 the state decriminalised low-level personal use of all illicit drugs; trade in cannabis remains illegal, but medicinal cannabis is legal.

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