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Germany Legalises Cannabis For Personal Use

Young people are increasingly using cannabis, so the German parliament has passed a law allowing people to grow up to three plants for private consumption.

On April 1, 2024, the ban on cannabis, which has been in force for more than 40 years, will be lifted. As well as allowing the non-commercial cultivation and sale of cannabis in limited quantities, the new law will also allow the possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis in a public space.

From July 2024, cannabis production will also be allowed for members of cannabis clubs, so long as the club has no more than 500 members and all members are adults.

Consumption, however, will remain prohibited close to schools, playgrounds, daycare centres, and youth facilities. It will also remain illegal for minors.

The governing coalition, comprising the Social Democratic Party, the Free Democratic Party, and the Greens, believes that the new law will undermine the growing black market, protect smokers from contaminated cannabis, and reduce revenue going to organised crime gangs.

Judges and law enforcement have criticised marijuana law reform, fearing that checks and penalties will not be enforced. The German Medical Association also believes that the age threshold of 18 is too low considering the harms involved in consuming the drug.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has argued that legalisation is needed to minimise harm caused by the black market.

“We have two goals: to crack down on the black market and improve the protection of children and young people,” he said.

The more liberal stance of Lauterbach, however, faced heavy opposition from the conservative CDU party, which accused him of promoting drug use. Christian Democrat legislator Tino Sorge has argued that the new law is dangerous and that the CDU will seek to reverse it after a change in government.

On Friday, despite a heated debate, the vote passed by 407 votes to 226.

The German people are deeply divided over the new law. According to YouGov, 47 percent of Germans support the legalisation of cannabis, while 42 percent reject legislation.

Germany’s decision to legalise cannabis brings it into a small but growing number of countries that have legalised the recreational use of cannabis, including Canada, Georgia, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay.

For liberal Germans, this is a step in the right direction because it will give adults more lifestyle freedom. As John Stuart Mill argued in his 1859 essay On Liberty, "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." This liberal principle, often referred to as the harm principle, also found expression in Thomas Jefferson’s 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia, where he writes, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others."

On the grounds of individual liberty and bodily autonomy, therefore, it could be argued that the legalisation of cannabis is a positive measure that will properly respect the sovereignty of individuals. While excessive consumption of cannabis may be harmful, the same is indeed true for tobacco and alcohol, both of which are legal for adults.

As well as giving individuals more autonomy, legalising cannabis has been shown to provide economic and budgetary benefits as well. In 2022, Deloitte Canada estimated that the cannabis industry had added $43.5 billion to Canada’s GDP since legalisation. Additionally, the industry has sustained over 151,000 jobs and put $15.1 billion into government coffers.

According to the Cato Institute, the state of Colorado, which legalised cannabis in 2012, collects almost $20 million per month from recreational cannabis. California, meanwhile, has collected over $50 million in monthly tax revenues from recreational cannabis. All this considered, the economic and budgetary benefits of legalising cannabis could be substantial for Germany, allowing the government to spend more on defence, education, healthcare, and policing.

Legalisation has had more mixed results in Thailand, which is now seeking to prohibit cannabis two years after decriminalising the drug. Initially, the policy was judged to be a huge success, massively boosting income from tourism and creating an industry worth 28 billion Thai Baht (£623.5 million) within the first year.

Poor regulation and lax enforcement, however, have caused societal and health problems, with the Health Ministry reporting an increase in cannabis-related psychological incidents from 37,000 to 63,000. While prohibitionists will claim that this is an inevitable consequence of legalising a harmful drug, liberals will argue that better regulation of cannabis is both possible and necessary to reduce harms associated with illicit cannabis, which is both stronger and more impure.

The new law coming into force this year in Germany demonstrates a libertarian approach to cannabis that seeks to undermine the black market in cannabis and provide a safer, legally regulated, and taxable version of the product in its place. The new law also demonstrates increased tolerance within Germany, a country where adults will be able to enjoy greater lifestyle freedom without fear of sanction. Whether or not more freedom is a good thing, however, will depend on your politics.


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