There is certainly something to be said about German cannabis reform that the rest of the world—and in particular, the U.S.—can learn from. The issue may have dragged excruciatingly slowly forward since 2017, but now that they have decided to actually do it, the government is moving forward quite fast to implement a new policy.
Last week, the government announced that ten new federal positions would be funded to oversee the new market. Two will be at BfArM, the medicines and medical devices agency where the current Cannabis Agency is located, and eight more will be directly under the Ministry of Health. The distinction is one of bureaucratic semantics as BfArM is an independent agency under the rubric of the health ministry. Yet this is Germany, land of bureaucratic hair splitting.
Yesterday, the Health Ministry also announced that it would start the first of five hearings today with the process lasting for the duration of June. More than 200 people are expected to take part—drawn from medical, legal, and business verticals, along with government officials and “international experts.”
The Ministry was told in a typically German and blunt fashion by the Bundestag budget committee last month that it was tasked with introduction of a bill that would be passable by the end of the year—or they would lose a million euros allocated for their PR budget.
The Impact of German Recreational Reform in Europe
While nothing is ever definite except death and taxes, it is highly likely that German recreational reform will pass by the end of this year. When the actual market starts is another question. Like Canada, or on a state level, Colorado and Washington State, sales could be delayed until the start of 2024.
There are also other critical elements of legalization to be decided, such as decriminalization. Sales will be a large topic and range from how brick and mortar dispensaries will be set up to the ever-thorny issue of online sales. Clearing both previous convictions as well as pending legal cases is also a priority. There are about 200 criminal cases pending against legitimate CBD businesses, and over 185,000 against individuals, mostly for non-violent and personal cultivation and possession.
Beyond domestic impact—which also includes the creation of a regulatory structure for commercial cultivation, processing, packaging, and distribution beyond sales—there is another issue now front and center in this discussion and impacts the conversation across Europe. Namely where the richest country in the E.U. will source its recreational product—particularly until domestic cultivation is harvested. No matter how much new cultivation is initiated by all three medical bid winners, they will not be able to produce enough to supply the domestic market (nor should they be allowed to try). This also seems to indicate that feeder markets, including those cultivators now sourcing medical grade flower from countries including Portugal and Greece, are primed to step into the breach.
This in turn is also likely to drive further reform in most, if not all, other E.U. countries—especially those now on the brink of reform anyway. Portugal and Luxembourg have already announced progress on recreational reform since Germany announced an expedited schedule this spring. They are unlikely to be the only countries in Europe who will act. This is a valuable export crop not only for developing world countries, but many in Europe as well. Spain is one of them.
What Will Be the International Impact?
Beyond the immediate states of Europe, the impact of Germany going full Monty recreational will be massive. Its population is twice the size of Canada.
Apart from the domestic market and the inevitable topic of exports, it is also inevitable that political reform here will drive the issue in other places—starting with the U.S. (at minimum).
If the Germans can do it, and within five years of federal reform of the medical kind (which also has not happened yet in the U.S.), there is little to hold this conversation back anywhere else.
What this also may well presage is further talks at the UN level, where reform has been punted for several years now. Removing cannabis from a Schedule I drug is now closer than it has been since before international prohibition which began to be implemented globally after WWI.
Quite ironically, the country which lost both of the global conflicts of the last century may well go down in history as the revolutionary force on the winning as well as the right side of history when it comes to cannabis.