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German cannabis clubs face jungle of bureaucracy

July 3, 2024

Stage two of cannabis freedom has begun in Germany: cannabis clubs are now legal. The possession and use of small quantities of the drug has been permitted since early April, but the issue remains controversial.

A person smokes a joint in Berlin
Since April 1, Germany has eased the rules surrounding cannabis consumptionImage: Annette Riedl/dpa/picture alliance

Since July 1, cannabis enthusiasts in Germany can get together and establish private clubs with up to 500 members to grow cannabis, distribute it among their members and consume it together.

However, as is so often the case in Germany, this new regulation comes with many details — and a lot of bureaucracy. Each member of the club may receive a maximum of 25 grams of cannabis (just under one ounce) on one day and a total of 50 grams per month.

It's as yet unclear which authority is supposed to be monitoring these clubs. In Berlin, for example, observers aren't sure how the city's responsible districts will handle the licensing process.

"The federal states are extremely ill-prepared for this," said Steffen Geyer, the head of the umbrella organization of German Cannabis Social Clubs. "There will certainly be a mid three-digit number of clubs applying for a license. How long this will take and how many of them will be successful is still impossible to predict," he said.

Germany partially legalizes cannabis

Gradual legalization of cannabis

On April 1, in a first step, Germany legalized the consumption of small amounts of cannabis in public — with many caveats. Since then, people above the age of 18 have been allowed to carry 25 grams of cannabis, and enthusiasts have been allowed to grow three plants and store up to 50 grams of dried cannabis in their homes.

Geyer believes the new regulations have already had an effect. "Far fewer consumption-related criminal offenses have been documented," he said. "In previous years, someone was arrested every three minutes because they had a small amount of cannabis on them."

In general, said Geyer, German society is simply ready for the new freedoms. "The trend in recent years has been toward greater acceptance. What I've noticed in the last three months is that the average age of consumers who identify themselves as such has risen considerably. Consumers have become more middle class and older, more colorful and more peaceful," he said.

Steffen Geyer, a man wearing glasses with long hair and a long, straggly beard
Geyer has long advocated the decriminalization of cannabis consumptionImage: Leopold Achilles

"I see people over the age of 50 coming to the Hemp Museum almost every day. They are stocking up on hemp seeds and buying specialist literature for the first time in their lives," added Geyer, who is also one of the organizers of the private museum in Berlin.

"These are all people who wouldn't have thought of setting foot into the museum just one year ago, if only because they thought it was somehow disreputable to be associated with cannabis."

Opposition to legalization

Previously, owning even just 1 gram of hashish was illegal and punishable by law. Since the legalization, however, the German Police Union has said it fears new criminal groups might emerge in the new cannabis clubs.

Alexander Poitz, deputy head of the police union, told the daily Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung: "We fear that criminals from the organized crime sector will use the possibility of growing clubs to expand criminal structures."

The center-right political opposition of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) are staunchly opposed to liberalization and have vowed to roll it back, should they again come to power in the 2025 general election.

The state of Bavaria, which is governed by the CSU party, has announced that it intends to take an extremely restrictive approach to the inspection of cultivation associations.

Since possession of small quantities has been permitted, according to Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, the police have already had to investigate almost 3,000 cases of driving under the influence of cannabis. The public prosecutor's office has initiated criminal proceedings for serious cases in 180 of such traffic offenses.

"In our view, the legalization of cannabis is a major mistake in terms of safety and health policy," said Hermann.

Was banning cannabis a big mistake?

Geyer maintains that the transparent regulations, including registration with the authorities, are intended to prevent criminal groups from developing in the new clubs. He also pointed to the experiences of many countries that have also gone down the path of cautious liberalization.

"We have followed the examples of Canada, the US, Uruguay, Liechtenstein, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain. We have a lot of regulations that are designed to prevent a mix of black and white market," he said.

Does cannabis cause psychotic disorders?

However, some experts continue to warn about the dangers of consumption. A Canadian study published in the specialist journal Psychological Medicine found that cannabis use is significantly associated with psychotic disorders during adolescence.

Studies suggest not only visual or acoustic hallucinations are possible in adolescents, according to Rainer Thomasius, a childhood addiction expert at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. He said adolescents who use cannabis show a reduced ability to concentrate and learn, and their ability to feel joy or sadness is dulled. In addition, they say they often feel completely overwhelmed by environmental stimuli.

According to a 2021 survey, around 4.5 million people in Germany smoke cannabis at least once a year. Around a third have tried it at least once in their lives.

This article was originally written in German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau