The German government on Wednesday approved a plan to legalize some recreational marijuana use, paving the way to allow adults to legally buy and possess small amounts of cannabis.
The legislation, which would allow adults to purchase and possess up to 25 grams of recreational cannabis for personal consumption through nonprofit social clubs, must still be approved by Parliament. But the endorsement from the three-party coalition’s cabinet was a crucial step toward Germany becoming the first major European country to legalize marijuana.
“This is an important law that will represent a long-term change in drug policy,” said Karl Lauterbach, Germany’s health minister at a news conference on Wednesday, adding that the legislation represented “a concept of controlled legalization.”
Under current German law, it is illegal to buy cannabis, but not to consume it.
The measure is weaker than what Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government had originally proposed. Germany’s socially liberal coalition government announced its intent to legalize recreational marijuana when it came into power in 2021, quickly finding consensus on an issue opposed for years by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
But implementation has proved difficult. A version of the plan introduced last year by Mr. Lauterbach would have allowed the distribution of marijuana through commercial stores. That idea was scuttled after the measure met resistance from the European Union’s governing body, the European Commission.
Instead, the legislation approved on Wednesday allows distribution through the creation of private cultivation associations made up of no more than 500 members. Members would be allowed to buy up to 25 grams per day or up to 50 grams per month.
The German government also plans to launch a series of regional pilot programs that would allow the sale of cannabis through a small number of licensed specialty shops, in an attempt to gather more information about the effects of allowing individuals to purchase marijuana commercially.
That measure is a response to the European Commission’s uneasiness with the German government’s earlier proposal to allow cannabis to be sold at stores. Similar pilot programs have been rolled out in the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The response from Brussels, Mr. Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin earlier this year, was “on one hand, something that perhaps disappointed us, but on the other hand also an opportunity — the opportunity to build the basis for a European cannabis policy with a well-conducted study.”
Members of Germany’s center-right opposition bloc have opposed the plan, arguing that the plan would put minors at risk. The legislation introduced by the government still prohibits marijuana possession for children under 18, and limits young adults ages 18 to 21 from procuring 30 grams a month from a cultivation club.
Armin Schuster, a member of the Christian Democrats in Saxony, warned that the law would unleash a “complete loss of control.” Herbert Ruel, also a Christian Democrat based in North Rhine-Westphalia, told the German network RND that the legislation would be overly onerous to enforce.
“How you can get the idea that you would relieve the police and other authorities is a mystery to me,” Mr. Ruel said.
Proponents of the measure in Germany’s governing coalition, who hope the law will be enacted by the end of the year, have countered that the nation’s current drug policy on cannabis use has reached its limit.
“We have to combine realism with prevention,” said Marco Buschmann, the federal minister of justice.
Several nations in the European Union have expressed interest in legalization. Malta, the tiny archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, was the first to legalize marijuana.
Catie Edmondson is a reporter in the Washington bureau, covering Congress. More about Catie Edmondson
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