Germany versus The United States: which will legalize cannabis first?

For years, Americans have been trying to predict how the U.S. federal government would respond to the proliferation of state-level cannabis legalization. Early on, we wondered whether the federal government would preempt early adopting states’ efforts to legalize adult use of cannabis, which didn’t happen as a majority of states have now legalized cannabis in some form. As states continued to jump on board the adult-use trend, we wondered whether the federal government, in an effort not to be outdone by states, would then be motivated to federally legalize cannabis. However, the opposite happened— what little guidance the Obama-era Department of Justice provided was ultimately reversed during the Trump Administration.

So, here we are, in a state vs. federal limbo in the U.S. regarding cannabis. And, despite renewed enthusiasm for a federal legalization after Democrats won the White House and both chambers of Congress, cannabis reform legislation has yet to make it to President Biden’s desk.

Governments around the world are contemplating their path forward for legalization due to the perception that public health and safety can be better served by public-private regulatory partnerships based on product safety and scientific research. Europe is of particular interest on this front, as countries across the continent have adopted medical-use policies, with Germany seeking adult-use legalization in the near future.

With Germany likely to play a pivotal role in the trajectory of the European cannabis model, it’s worth examining both the tailwinds and headwinds facing legalization in the country and how they compare to the factors affecting federal policy in the U.S.

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