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What is in Germany's leaked cannabis legalization plan?

In the future, German adults should be able to legally grow, buy and consume cannabis themselves - at least within a narrowly defined legal framework. A first draft for a cannabis law shows where the journey is headed. Of particular interest to pharmacies is the fact that - at least in the first stage - they are excluded as dispensaries. In addition, medical cannabis is to be removed from the scope of the Narcotics Act.

In mid-April, Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Ă–zdemir (Greens) presented the key points for cannabis legalization. They are based on a two-pillar model. The first pillar is now to be established with the "Law on the Controlled Distribution of Cannabis." The focus is on cultivation in non-profit associations ("cannabis clubs") and private self-cultivation - both of which are to be made possible nationwide. Commercial supply chains are not planned for the time being - they are only envisaged in the second pillar. And whether this can really be legally enforced is still up in the air.

How exactly and by whom controlled cultivation and controlled dispensing may take place in a private context - for this, the now available draft for the Cannabis Act (dated April 28, 2023) provides quite strict specifications. In addition to self-cultivation (three female flowering plants per calendar year may be possessed by over-18s for their own consumption), cultivation is only permitted by private cultivation associations. To obtain permission, they must meet numerous requirements. Among other things, they must take various security and protective measures.

These cultivation associations are also the only ones allowed to dispense the cannabis they grow. There are clear guidelines for this as well. For example, the cannabis may only be distributed to members, with a maximum of 50 grams per month - and in "neutral packaging or unpackaged." An instruction leaflet with weight, harvest date, best-before date, variety, and active ingredient content (THC and CBD) in percent is to be mandatory. The distribution takes place at the cost price of the respective growers' association; a free distribution is not permitted.

Pharmacies, on the other hand, are excluded when it comes to the distribution of cannabis - this was already clear after the presentation of the key points. The explanatory memorandum to the draft cannabis law explicitly states that legal forms other than registered associations with a corresponding statutory purpose, "in particular commercial providers, pharmacies, non-profit companies, foundations, cooperatives or other institutions and organizations," are not entitled to apply for permission to dispense. It is further explained that the privileged status of registered associations allows for the implementation of community-based, non-commercial cultivation of cannabis. Such a non-profit approach, which is primarily based on voluntary structures, is guided by the narrow framework of existing regulations under international and European law.

Focus on child and youth protection
The draft also includes provisions for the protection of children and young people and for addiction prevention. Minors caught with cannabis may be required by the youth welfare office to participate in appropriate early intervention programs. In addition, smoking cannabis within 250 meters of schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, youth facilities, and sports facilities is to remain prohibited. Consumption is also to be prohibited in pedestrian zones between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. It will also be prohibited to dispense cannabis mixed with alcohol, tobacco/nicotine, food, flavors, or other additives. This is intended to prevent incentives for consumption.

The monitoring of "cannabis clubs" is also regulated in detail, and documentation and reporting obligations are envisaged. For example, the clubs are to report annually to the authorities how much cannabis with which active ingredient content (THC and CBD) was produced, dispensed, or destroyed in the past year and what the current inventory is. In addition, the law will include export bans and new penal provisions, and administrative offenses.

Medical cannabis: from the BtMG to the Cannabis Act
As already announced at the beginning of the legalization debate in this legislative period, cannabis for medical purposes will no longer fall under the scope of the Narcotics Act. For this special cannabis, the working draft provides a separate chapter. It concerns medicinal cannabis of plant origin as well as synthetically produced cannabinoids that correspond to the natural group of active ingredients, the cannabinoids found in the plant.

The chapter contains regulations relating to prescribing, import and export permits, cultivation, and its monitoring. Essentially, the existing legal situation is to be retained; the provisions are mainly transferred from the Narcotics Act to the new regulatory framework. In addition, there are authorization bases for legal ordinances by the federal government. It is also clarified: medical cannabis for end users may continue to be dispensed only on a doctor's prescription and only in pharmacies. Dentists and veterinarians may not prescribe it. As part of the operation of a public pharmacy or a hospital pharmacy, cannabis from state-controlled cultivation for medical purposes may also be imported and exported without a permit. However, the draft does not provide for a change in the Social Code Book V, which regulates the basis for the prescribability of medical cannabis. In this respect, no changes are apparently planned.

The draft still contains a number of gaps and comments. So there will still be a lot to clarify in the departmental consultations now underway, which are expected to culminate in a government draft.

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