By Riham Alkousaa
BERLIN, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Germany on Wednesday set out plans to legalise cannabis, in a move promised by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government that would make it one of the first countries in Europe to make weed legal.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented a cornerstone paper on planned legislation to regulate the controlled distribution and consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes among adults.
Acquiring and possessing up to 20 to 30 grams of recreational cannabis for personal consumption would also be made legal.
The coalition government struck an agreement last year to introduce legislation during its four-year term to allow the controlled distribution of cannabis in licensed shops.
Lauterbach did not give a timeline for the plan, which would make Germany the second European Union country to legalise cannabis after Malta.
Many European countries, including Germany, have already legalised cannabis for limited medicinal purposes. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been legal in Germany since 2017. Others have decriminalised its general use, while stopping short of making it legal.
According to the paper, private self-cultivation would be permitted to a limited extent. Ongoing investigations and criminal proceedings connected to cases no longer illegal would be terminated.
The government also plans to introduce a special consumption tax, as well as developing cannabis-related education and prevention work.
Legalising cannabis could bring Germany annual tax revenues and cost savings of about 4.7 billion euros ($4.7 billion) and create 27,000 new jobs, a survey found last year.
Some 4 million people consumed cannabis in Germany last year, 25% of whom were between ages 18 and 24, Lauterbach said, adding that the legalisation would squeeze out the cannabis black market.
Germany will present the paper to the European Commission for pre-assessment and will only draft a law once the Commission gives it a green light, the minister added.
The decision has already stirred a mix of reactions across Europe’s biggest economy.
Germany’s pharmacists association warned of the health risks of legalising cannabis and said it would put pharmacies in medical conflict.
Pharmacists are health care professionals, so “a possible competitive situation with purely commercial providers is viewed particularly critically,” Thomas Preis, head of the North Rhine Pharmacists’ Association, told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
The legalisation plan has not been welcomed by all federal states. Bavaria’s health minister, for instance, warned that Germany should not become a drug tourism destination in Europe.
“Consumption entails significant and sometimes irreversible health and social risks – and any form of trivialization is completely irresponsible,” Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek was quoted as saying by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
But Germany’s Greens said decades of prohibiting cannabis have only exacerbated the risks, adding that legal trade will better protect youth and health. “Because too restrictive conditions for the legal market only promote the black market for particularly strong cannabis,” lawmaker Kirsten Kappert-Gonther said on Wednesday.
Lars Mueller, chief executive of German cannabis firm SynBiotic, said Wednesday’s step was “almost like winning the lottery” for his company.
“When the time comes, we will be able to offer franchise-like models for cannabis stores in addition to our own stores,” Mueller said.
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(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa, editing by Rachel More and Miranda Murray)
((Riham.Alkousaa@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter: @RihamKousa;))
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