In a rapid turn of events, the German Bundestag’s budget committee has placed pressure on the German Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, to present a bill for recreational cannabis reform this year for passage by the end of 2022.
If he fails, he will lose part of his ministerial budget.
The committee, now in negotiations over all parts of the government’s annual spend, decided to temporarily suspend public relations funds for the Department of Health if the recreational cannabis bill is not passed this year. Lauterbach had just announced his intention to introduce such a bill by summer rather than autumn. It is unclear which decision actually came first, but at this point, it is obvious that the Traffic Light Coalition has decided to prioritize a truly burning issue.
Regardless, this is a major move both nationally and globally when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. It is almost unprecedented as a pressure tactic in German politics (which are genteel by U.S. standards). Furthermore, despite all the bureaucratic delay on just about everything here, it is also very clear that when they want to, the German government can move quite quickly.
The American Congress (particularly the Senate side of the Hill) should take note.
It is not like holding major issues hostage over budget agreements is an unknown tactic in Washington. It’s just nobody has been desperate enough, or incentivized enough, to use it for cannabis reform before.
The Germans are Coming
The amount of excitement on the German side of the discussion is absolutely building, daily. Deals are being made, even in the preliminary handshake form and plans are going ahead for all kinds of projects.
The fact that recreational reform is now essentially on the legislative docket begins to also firm up realistic estimates of market start. It is unlikely that anyone will allow the market to begin before the last two quarters of 2023. More likely, market start will be scheduled for the first or second quarter of 2024. Decriminalization, however, may happen a bit faster than this.
There are, of course, many considerations to all of this—not the least of which is administration and paperwork creation (hopefully this time via efficient, non-crashing digitized processes) for getting a move on.
The fact that this is coming now is also very interesting, considering that digitalization of German healthcare is also one of the issues Lauterbach has also been tasked to advance. This alone is an onerous discussion for a system which still routinely utilizes fax machines. Using cannabis as a way to speed up the digitalization of the healthcare system that touches it is a smart move. Even smarter if, again as part of this package of reforms, it relieves a burden on insurance companies on the reimbursement front.
German healthcare is going through a massive budget crisis right now. Recreational cannabis reform would certainly begin to ease a bottleneck of issues. Starting with tax income. Of course, as many in the Bundestag know, the continued criminalization of people known as legitimate cannabis patients who the system cannot process and treat fast enough is also an increasingly lightning rod kind of issue. Waiting times for a new appointment for either a neurologist or orthopaedist are at minimum, three to five months, even in large cities like Frankfurt right now. Whether such doctors decide to prescribe cannabis, or the patient’s insurer will cover it, are two different questions.
Recreational cannabis reform will go a long way to relieving some of the pressure, bureaucratically, politically, and administratively. Not to mention financially.
The fact that Germany seems to be fast-tracking cannabis reform, and further under such circumstances will hopefully be a wake-up call to the rest of the world. Starting of course, with the United States.
Beyond this the impact will be felt almost instantly across Europe. Of course, there will be more conservative states which slow down reform. Newly re-elected Emmanuel Macron swore that he would not legalize recreational use while in office. Then again, the savvy French leader is a politician who recognizes which way the wind is blowing. And on this one, it has a nice, European-wide unifying effect.
Portugal, Luxembourg, and potentially Spain may also move quickly now to start to create export crops and products for a very lucrative and hungry market. Greece is having a field day.
What will be allowed to travel where is going to be an interesting discussion, as will the ability of what grade of cannabis will be allowed to cross borders. The first recreational market may in fact happen with German grown cannabis first. That would set up the current medical cultivation bid holders with a huge (and unfair) advantage. It would also potentially give Cansativa an unbelievably unfair edge (if not addressed pronto)—namely they currently hold the monopoly distribution position, granted by BfArM, for all German cannabis of medical grade at least, grown in Germany.
That is going to have to be addressed, pronto. Otherwise, there will be marches in the streets. Given the pressure and thus speed Lauterbach is now under (and given who has the lion’s share of access to his ears on this issue) it is very likely that a lot of issues (and people) will be thrown under the bus for the benefit of the rich, white, men’s club now attempting to exert their brand of control over the conversation even now.
The other discussion that is also coming fast is home grow.
No matter the particulars (for example, keeping all foreign GACP high THC cannabis out of Germany for a certain period of time), or what is likely to unfold, reform is clearly coming, and fast, to Germany.
How it will be appropriated, tweaked, and amended is anyone’s guess. But the levers are now clearly moving, with a very incentivizing twist, to make Germany, the largest economy in Europe, into one of the most important cannabis markets in the world.