A final vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in Germany that was initially planned for this week has been called off amid concerns from leaders of the country’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). The delay means that action on the landmark proposal will be postponed until next year.
“It always has to be approved by the parliamentary groups in the end,” Dirk Heidenblut, an SPD member of Germany’s Bundestag who is responsible for the party’s cannabis policy, said in an Instagram post. “And if a faction leader, in this case the SPD, has concerns, then it cannot be set up yet.”
Despite the delay, Heidenblut added that as long as the measure advances by the end of January, the delay shouldn’t meaningfully impact the schedule for implementing legalization.
If lawmakers pass the bill, the early stages of reform—including home cultivation for personal use—would begin as soon as April.
The development is the latest of several delays to have slowed the bill’s pace through parliament. Lawmakers initially delayed their first debate on the legislation, which was held in October, ostensibly due to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
They also pushed back a vote scheduled for last month as supporters worked on improvements to the bill.
While Heidenblut’s recent comments didn’t elaborate on SPD’s concerns or provide further details on the delay, proponents of the legalization measure faced criticism in the Bundestag last week that suggested ongoing hesitancy about the policy change.
At a meeting on Wednesday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach took questions from members, some of whom oppose legalization. At several points, he pushed back against lawmakers who suggested that legalization would send the wrong message to youth and lead to increased underage consumption, saying their arguments “misrepresented” the legislation, according to a translation.
“The fact remains that child and youth protection is carried out through education, and sales to children and young people remain prohibited,” Lauterbach said. “That is the only change we have made in this area: a tightening.”
Lawmakers also recently made a raft of adjustments to the bill, mostly designed to loosen restrictions that faced opposition from advocates and supporters in the Bundestag. They included increasing home possession maximums and removing the possibility of jail time for possessing slightly more than the allowable limit.
Lawmakers further agreed to stagger the implementation of the reform, making possession and home cultivation legal for adults beginning in April. Social clubs that could distribute marijuana to members would open in July.
Officials are eventually planning to introduce a complementary second measure that would establish pilot programs for commercial sales in cities throughout the country. That legislation is expected to be unveiled after its submitted to the European Commission for review.
As for the latest delay, the German news outlet LTO reported that it’s unclear “whether the SPD faction leadership has a problem with the content of the law” or simply whether focusing on marijuana issues “in times of the budget crisis shortly before Christmas seems inappropriate to them.”
The Bundestag could now take up the measure as soon as January 18 or 19, LTO said, “or just in February.”
The German news publication Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported that the hangup is the result of criticism from domestic SPD politicians.
“There was no agreement with the domestic politicians of the SPD faction at any time,” domestic politician Sebastian Fiedler told the outlet. “If the law on cannabis legalization were to be voted on now, there would be a significant proportion of no votes from the SPD faction. Including my own.”
An SPD spokesperson in the Bundestag, meanwhile, told the publication: “We are confident that the law will be passed promptly in the new year in the Bundestag.”
A member of parliament from the Green Party, Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, expressed disappointment about the delay.
“It is extremely unfortunate that #Cannabis is not yet on #Tagesordnug [legislative agenda]. A set-up would have been possible,” Kappert-Gonther said.
She noted that the April start date for certain elements of legalization, however, can still “be achieved if it is set up at the beginning of the year!”
Ates Gürpinar, who represents The Left party in the Bundestag, didn’t mince words on social media following announcement of the delay.
“It is politically so stupid that the SPD leadership is stopping the #Cannabis law,” Gürpinar wrote on social media. “It is once again bowing to the culture war of the right – and thereby making it bigger. The messing around at #Legalisierung [legalization] keeps the issue on the boil from the right. Just get through it, damn it.”
Members of the German public are also disappointed, as evidenced by a social media post from Carmen Wegge, a member of the SPD who has supported the legalization proposal.
“Dear everyone,” she wrote, “if you are dissatisfied, please write me an email or contact me in another way. Finding out my employee’s home number and making phone calls on the weekend doesn’t result in a setup.”
The German Hemp Association has launched a protest action in response to the delay in which it’s urging lawmakers to move forward with the legalization bill. The group is asking supporters to send letters to their representatives to call for the bill to be passed without further restrictions.
The SPD faction that’s holding up the process, the hemp association said, not only threatens to derail the country’s timeline for legalization, but it also “contradicts the statement of all other parties involved that there is an agreement on the content” of the bill.
Following the bill’s final reading in the Bundestag, it will go to the Bundesrat, a separate legislative body that represents German states. Members of the Bundesrat tried to block the proposed reform in September but ultimately failed.
The legalization proposal is being spearheaded by Lauterbach, the health minister, who first shared details about the revised legalization plan last April. The following month, he distributed the legislative text to cabinet officials.
Lawmakers in the Bundestag recently held a hearing in the Health Committee, at which opponents criticized some elements of the proposal. The body also heard a competing policy proposal from The Union, a political alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), that would not legalize marijuana but instead “improve health protection and strengthen education, prevention and research,” Kappert-Gonther said at the time.
The health minister responded to early criticism of the bill from medical and law enforcement groups by emphasizing that the reform would be coupled with a “major campaign” to educate the public about the risks of using cannabis.
Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved the initial framework for a legalization measure late last year, but the government wanted to get signoff from the EU to ensure that enacting the reform wouldn’t put them in violation of their international obligations.
The framework was the product of months of review and negotiations within the German administration and the traffic light coalition government. Officials took a first step toward legalization last summer, kicking off a series of hearings meant to help inform legislation to end prohibition in the country.
Government officials from multiple countries, including the U.S., also met in Germany last month to discuss international marijuana policy issues as the host nation works to enact legalization.
A group of German lawmakers, as well as Narcotics Drugs Commissioner Burkhard Blienert, separately visited the U.S. and toured California cannabis businesses last year to inform their country’s approach to legalization.
The visit came about two months after top officials from Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands held a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss plans and challenges associated with recreational marijuana legalization.
Leaders of the coalition government said in 2021 that they had reached an agreement to end cannabis prohibition and enact regulations for a legal industry, and they first previewed certain details of that plan last year.
A novel international survey that was released last year found majority support for legalization in several key European countries, including Germany.
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