Germany’s parliament votes to legalize limited marijuana possession and allow ‘cannabis clubs’

German lawmakers have approved a government plan to liberalize rules on cannabis, which would decriminalize limited amounts of the substance and allow members of “cannabis clubs” to buy it for recreational purposes. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file

German lawmakers have approved a government plan to liberalize rules on cannabis, paving the way for the country to decriminalize limited amounts of marijuana and allow members of “cannabis clubs” to buy it for recreational purposes.

Parliament’s lower house, or Bundestag, backed the legislation, a prominent reform project of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s socially liberal governing coalition, by 407 votes to 226, with four abstentions.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the government’s aim is to “fight the black market” and better protect young people. He said current laws in the European Union’s most populous nation have failed, with consumption rising and increasing problems with contaminated or overly concentrated cannabis.

“Whatever we do, we can’t carry on like this,” he told lawmakers. “You can stick your head in the sand … but we won’t solve a single problem that way.”

Lauterbach, who noted that he himself long opposed legalizing cannabis, argued that addiction researchers say removing the taboo around marijuana and giving information on its risks is the right approach.

The bill foresees legalizing possession by adults of up to 25 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of marijuana for recreational purposes and allowing individuals to grow up to three plants on their own. That part of the legislation is supposed to take effect on April 1.

German residents who are 18 and older would be allowed to join nonprofit “cannabis clubs” with a maximum 500 members each, starting July 1. The clubs would be allowed to grow cannabis for members’ personal consumption.

Individuals would be allowed to buy up to 25 grams per day, or a maximum 50 grams per month — a figure limited to 30 grams for under-21s. Membership in multiple clubs would not be allowed. The clubs’ costs would be covered by membership fees, which would be staggered according to how much marijuana members use.

The government plans a ban on advertising or sponsoring cannabis, and the clubs and consumption won’t be allowed in the immediate vicinity of schools, playgrounds and sports facilities. An evaluation of the legislation’s effect on protection of children and youths is to be carried out within 18 months of the legislation taking effect.

The main centre-right opposition bloc vehemently opposes the change.

“You’re asserting here in all seriousness as health minister … that we will curb consumption among children and young people with the legalization of further drugs,” conservative lawmaker Tino Sorge said to Lauterbach. “That’s the biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard.”

Lauterbach told reporters after the vote that “dealers have no reason at all to celebrate.” He noted that, under the new legislation, dealers who are caught selling to children or youths can expect to face a sentence of at least two years.

The plan falls significantly short of the government’s original ambitions, which foresaw allowing the sale of cannabis to adults across the country at licensed outlets. The project was scaled back following talks with the European Union’s executive commission.

Parliament’s upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 state governments, could in principle delay the legislation, though it doesn’t formally require the chamber’s approval. Bavaria’s conservative state government has said it would examine whether legal action against the liberalization plan is possible.

The legislation is one of several that Scholz’s coalition, which has since become highly unpopular as a result of economic weakness and persistent infighting, pledged when it took office in 2021.

It has eased rules on gaining citizenship and ended restrictions on holding dual citizenship. Among other policies, it also plans to make it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their gender and name in official registers.

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