Germany Votes To Legalize Recreational Cannabis As Of April 1

Germany has just become the latest to join a select group of countries that have legalized cannabis use. Today, February 23, 2024, the Bundestag passed a law that is due to come into effect from April 1, permitting recreational use of the drug for over-18s in both public and private spaces, with some restrictions.

News that the country’s government was planning a more lenient stance on cannabis first broke in October last year, but it’s only now that the official vote has gone through. It joins a small club of other countries like Canada, and a number of jurisdictions in the US, which have legalized personal use of cannabis. 

Other places, including the UK, allow limited access to the drug for medicinal purposes. Clouding the picture even further are regions where the drug remains technically illegal, but where its use is decriminalized, such as Portugal and the Netherlands.  

The legislation passed by 407 votes to 226, but its detractors were not going down without a fight.

“You are asserting in all seriousness that by legalising more drugs we will contain drug use among young people. That is the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard,” said Tino Sorge of the Christian Democrat party during the debate, according to Reuters, while the BBC reports that another party member, Simone Borchardt, called it a “completely unnecessary, confused law” regardless of warnings from doctors, police and psychotherapists.

However, those in favor of a relaxation of the rules are sticking to their convictions that a harm reduction approach is the best way forward.

“We have two goals: to crack down on the black market and improved protection of children and young people,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach as the debate began. 

Even when the law comes into effect in April, that doesn’t mean it’s carte-blanche as far as pot is concerned. Possession of up to 25 grams (0.9 ounces) in public spaces and 50 grams (1.8 ounces) in private homes will be allowed, considered a substantial quantity. Growing up to three plants per household will also be permitted.

But if the homegrown approach doesn’t work for you, purchasing the drug will be more difficult. While the original plans for the law involved the sale of cannabis from specially licensed shops and pharmacies, this is no longer on the cards. Instead, “cannabis social clubs” with a limit of 500 members each will be set up and will be responsible for distributing the drug to their constituents, all of whom must be German residents.

Said German residents are so far divided as to the wisdom of this policy. DW reports that a YouGov poll found 42 percent of respondents either somewhat or completely rejected the proposal, meaning there are quite a number of people left to convince. 

The evidence we have from places where legal cannabis has been available for a while paints quite a mixed picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, contrary to what many fear, teen cannabis use actually went down after legalization. But, a study only months earlier concluded that cannabis had overtaken alcohol as the most abused drug among US children.  

With similarly conflicting results around the potential benefits and harms of the drug, it’s unlikely the controversy will die down any time soon.

Indeed, according to the BBC, opposition politicians in Germany are already hatching plans to scrap the law should they be elected into government next year.

As it stands, recreational cannabis will no longer be verboten in Germany as of April 1. How long that will be the case remains to be seen.

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