In yesterday’s article, we explored Malta’s cannabis regulatory framework, and what is unique about it. Today, we will travel upward through the EU and dive into Germany and the Netherlands. The latter has historically been renowned for its acceptance of cannabis. Yet, Dutch regulations can be quite counterintuitive and even contradicting: long story short, cannabis can be sold, but cannot be grown. To reduce the impact on public security, safety, and health, the Dutch government has set up an experiment for a controlled cannabis supply chain. On the other hand, there’s Germany. It is one of the most important countries in the EU, both in terms of sheer size and economic power. It goes without saying that any development related to adult use happening on German soil is bound to influence general EU policy. To what degree though is yet to be seen.

After Leonid McKay ended his talk, Esther Neumeier, Head of the Drug Monitoring and Policy/Reitox national focal point, Germany, took the stage to describe what has been going on in Germany over these last couple of years of hectic cannabis discussions. “In September 2021, a new government was voted,” she explained. “The coalition was made of social democrats, greens, and liberals – something never seen before in Germany. In their coalition agreement, there was also a small paragraph saying that the government wanted to set up a complete chain of production of cannabis and license stores.” It’s admittedly quite amusing that such a small paragraph in a coalition’s agreement made so much noise within the cannabis sector. Of course, excitement came not only from the commercial cannabis side but also from the research side of things.

So, it’s German weed
The focus of the new regulation was clear, stated Esther. Germany has a lot of cannabis users, and Esther said that it’s the country’s duty to do better for them and to protect young people. Health protection, harm reduction, no contamination, and youth prevention are the pillars that are shaping Germany’s cannabis regulatory framework. After that, there was a long consultation process with scientists, growers, and users, which all ended in October 2022, when the first cornerstone was hit. The main findings were two: there will be a commercial supply chain, and home growing will be allowed. Then, in April 2023, the second round of cornerstones was model regions. “In these model regions, commercial supply chains need to be evaluated scientifically.” On top of that, the new set of cornerstones allowed for cannabis social clubs as well.

It's not legal yet
“In August 2023, the law went through the cabinet, and now it has to go through the parliament.” Esther pointed out that when the law passed the cabinet, everyone in the industry rejoiced as they thought cannabis was finally legal in Germany. “Let me say it once and for all: cannabis is not legal in Germany. Yet.” It is expected that the law will go through Parliament this year and will come into effect by the end of the year. Until then, better to hold your horses.

The Netherlands
When it came to talking about the Netherlands, Margriet van Laar took the stage and gave an overview of the history of Dutch cannabis policy. Dutch cannabis policy dates back to the 70s, when a distinction between cannabis and hard drugs was established based on scientific evidence. Since then, the sale of cannabis to adults has been tolerated. The aim of that policy was to avoid the criminalization of cannabis users and to prevent them from being in contact with other hard drugs available in the illicit market. Nowadays, there are more than 500 coffee shops in more than 100 municipalities. Of course, coffee shops need to adhere to certain rules, such as they are not permitted to sell to minors, large quantities, and they cannot advertise drugs. Since 2013, only residents of the Netherlands can buy cannabis at coffee shops, though municipalities can decide to enforce that criterion. And now comes the contradicting part, which concerns the so-called ‘back door’.

As Margriet explained: “The back door, the production of cannabis and supply to coffee shops is illegal. This has created problems for public order and safety because of illicit cannabis cultivation and related crime.” It took 40 years before the Dutch government decided to finally tackle the issue. That’s why the Dutch government launched the Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain experiment.

Controlled Cannabis Supply Chain Experiment
The intervention consists of the implementation and enforcement of a set of regulations ranging from the production of cannabis to the sale in coffee shops. “Just to mention a few requirements, growers must ensure that cannabis is tested at a licensed lab, they have to be able to grow at least 6,500 kg per year, and able to grow 10 or more varieties of cannabis,” said Margriet. “There are also strict regulations for heavy metals, biologicals, and pesticides. On top of that, growers also must ensure security during storage, packaging, and transport. There will also be a track and trace system implemented. Then, there will also be labeling packages that need to contain information on THC and CBD content. Packaging should be neutral, and there should also be information on the health risks of consuming cannabis, like what you see on cigarette packs.” At the same time, growers are not the only ones tasked with following strict procedures. “There are a bunch of prevention requirements that coffee shop owners have to adhere to,” Margriet continued. “For example, they must follow a specific licensed course on cannabis and how to deal with problematic cannabis users. The maximum stock will be up to a week of cannabis supply, and now it is 500 grams.”

Prevention is crucial in this instance as well, especially when it comes to preventing an increase in cannabis use. “There will be no national cannabis campaign, but just scaling and implementing existing intervention on a local level.”

There are quite a few questions that still need an answer, both with regard to supply and public health. “Will supply meet the demand? Will prices increase and push users to the illicit market?” Margriet said. A crucial part of this closed chain experiment is the evaluation study to determine whether such a supply chain is doable not only from a market standpoint, as we have seen, but also from a public health and safety standpoint.

So far, however, things haven’t moved as fast as everyone wanted. “The nomination and screening of potential growers took more time than anticipated,” Margriet pointed out. “There were also problems for growers to find a location, to obtain licenses and a bank account. It also took a longer time to grow the sufficient high quality, quantity, and diversity of cannabis. The track and trace system too was another pain point. There were also changes to the original design of the study and the intervention in the Coalition agreement: it states that a big city had to be added to the intervention program, this will probably be a district in Amsterdam. The decision to have a startup phase in Breda and Tilburg, which was probably inspired by the fear that there would be declining support on a local level, was not in the original plans."