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Germany’s Cannabis Trial Continues Despite Political Follies

 5 min read / 

Since winning a plurality of the vote last September, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has struggled to form a ruling coalition. Attempts to form a working partnership with other parties – including Alliance 90/The Greens and the Free Democratic Party – failed when both walked out of talks last November.

Coalition Difficulties

Martin Schulz, leader of the second-place-finishing Social Democratic Party – which has finished second in all but two elections since World War II (when it finished first) and had been the CDU’s coalition partner nine times – declared in Autumn 2017 that SDP preferred to be an opposition party this time.

Now the SDP leaders have voted to work with Merkel, though the rank-and-file still need to approve the move. The vote is expected to be tallied after March 2, and the result is by no means certain. Younger members seem to oppose it, blaming the coalition for the party’s poor showing at the polls, while older members seem to favour it as the best of a bad lot of options.

Either way, Schulz is out. Schulz resigned as party leader February 13, partly for flip-flopping on joining the coalition agreeing to serve in Merkel’s cabinet.

Prospects for Recreational Cannabis Legalisation

Recreational cannabis legalisation is among the issues this coalition may affect.

Medical marijuana usage was legalised (for a five-year trial period) in Germany just last year, probably to take it off the table during the election. Prescriptions for marijuana in Germany are harder to come by than in parts of the US (though a comedy sketch suggesting that all you have to do is have somebody slap you in the face and then claim you are in pain is at least a slight exaggeration). In fact, Germany has some of the strictest narcotic drug laws in Europe. According to a national survey, two out of three German citizens want the ban to stay in place. Don’t expect them to get laxer under a CDU-SDP coalition.

During the campaign, Schulz had said he would allow a “free vote” on cannabis legalisation if the SDP won the election, but he never said he supported it, and the party as a whole is opposed. Merkel is no marijuana fan, either, and without Schulz, it’s unlikely that the free vote will occur. Both the FDP and Greens support legalisation, however, and may have made that a condition of a coalition. Had they managed to make a deal with Merkel, it might have led to the legalisation of recreational marijuana use in Germany.

German Police Support ‘Complete Decriminalisation’

One unlikely party who supports “complete decriminalisation of cannabis consumers,” recreational users as well as medical, is André Schulz, head of the Association of German Detectives (BDK), Germany’s national police association. Earlier this month, he called for an end to the prohibition on cannabis, calling it “arbitrary” and “neither intelligent nor purposeful” because it only creates criminals and takes up police time and services that could be of more use directed elsewhere.

Detective Schulz and BDK do agree that it should remain illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, that children should be protected, and that the government should promote responsible drug use.

Who Will Supply Legal Cannabis?

Medical cannabis is unlikely to go away, at least not until the end of the five-year trial. In less than 12 months, medical cannabis demand has outstripped supply, even given the dearth of doctors willing to prescribe it. Instead of an expected 700 patients, more than 13,000 applied for a prescription. Nearly 9,000 have already been approved.

Currently, Germany’s supplies must be imported – citizens are not allowed to grow their own – from Canada, The Netherlands, or other legal marijuana growers. Canadian firm Canopy is among those profiting, with about £800,000 revenue in Germany in the last nine months of 2017. In just the last quarter, Aurora Cannabis generated £1.4 million.

As many as ten German companies have applied to grow cannabis domestically, but that German cannabis won’t be ready until 2019 at the earliest. Domestic cannabis sales are expected to reach £5.3 billion in ten years.

How much of that will go to German companies is unclear, because the law says only companies with experience growing medical marijuana may do so, and no German companies do. To start, they need to forge a relationship with non-German competitors. Naturally, they would prefer to do it themselves and not split the profits. Some German companies are suing, or planning to sue, the German government to change that part of the law.

Future of Cannabis

As cannabis legalisation spreads – Canada begins legal recreational sales later this year, and more than half the United States has approved medical use, with recreational getting a big push – the desire for investors and companies to get in on the legal marijuana market will increase.

Blowback from the pharmaceutical companies that are afraid of the competition and puritans who dislike all illegal drugs on principle won’t be enough to stop it. The best they can do is to allow proper scientific testing of marijuana’s benefits and harms, regulate it for safety, and let the market and the people decide if the good outweighs the bad.

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