Germany’s grow-your-own cannabis clubs hopeful laws will change

Health minister promised to introduce legislation for a first parliamentary reading ‘immediately’ after Easter

Christian Brugger Burg didn’t want chocolate this Easter – he was hoping for his first joint in 20 years. The Stuttgart man was 16 when he first tried cannabis but, fearing a run-in with the law, gave up seven years later.

The 43-year-old member of the Stuttgart Cannabis Club is optimistic that German law, which largely outlaws possession and consumption of the drug, is about to change.

“It’s great to see movement but we’re not investing in equipment or growing tents until we know for sure this is happening,” said Brugger Burg.

When Germany’s new Social Democratic Party-lead federal government took office in December 2021, it vowed to introduce “controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed locations”.


Unlike the neighbouring Netherlands, which tolerates the sale and consumption of cannabis, the German plan was for legal vendors selling quality-controlled product from licensed growers. According to draft proposals from last October, cannabis would no longer be classed as a narcotic in Germany and adults would be allowed carry up to 30 grams for personal use.

After delays and legal rows, federal health minister Karl Lauterbach has promised to introduce legislation for a first parliamentary reading “immediately” after Easter. “This foresees the legalisation of cannabis, Germany-wide,” said Dr Lauterbach.

What he didn’t say, however, is that the ambitious Plan A is in doubt after legal experts in the Bundestag suggested it contravenes European law.

A 2004 European Council decision obliges member states to ensure that the sale of drugs, including cannabis, are punishable using “effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties”. Meanwhile, the Schengen agreement obliges signatories to curtail the illegal export, sale and supply of “narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, including cannabis”.

While some in Germany see the belated EU concerns as a domestic political smokescreen, the jury is out on how energetic Berlin will be on the issue in Brussels. Some are hopeful for a repeat of Germany’s last-minute stand against abolishing combustion engines. Others suggest Berlin is anxious to avoid a repeat of a legal clash – and expensive climbdown in 2019 – over illegal motorway tolls for non-nationals.

“European law is where we have the greatest challenge at the moment,” said Carmen Wegge, an SPD Bundestag MP and rapporteur on cannabis legislation. “We cannot say with 100 per cent certainty how much the government is prepared to risk but I am fairly certain we are going to get close to full legalisation.”

While it is likely that legislation will be passed this year, informed sources say it will be a less ambitious Plan B of pilot projects and social clubs, where volunteers grow their own cannabis and distribute it to members.

While SPD MPs and their Green coalition allies are pushing for progress and a robust dialogue with Brussels, concerns are growing in their liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition partner. Instead of sidelining the black market, they fear the slimmed-down plan will see it thrive, particularly among younger people and tourists.

This uncertainty has, in turn, revived old fears and arguments about the health effects on young people of stronger, often genetically-modified cannabis.

Bavarian health minister Klaus Holetschek has warned that “legalisation will reduce risk awareness and lower the inhibition threshold” – for young people, in particular.

He and other critics point to a study showing a six-fold rise in the number of Germans hospitalised with a cannabis-related psychosis, from 3,000 in the year 2000 to more than 18,000 in 2018.

Expert opinion is divided over whether the rise is due to higher concentration of THC – the major psychoactive substance in cannabis – or a rise in general consumption, thanks to a more liberal legal attitude to the drug in some German regions.

Seasoned watchers of the debate say there is no evidence that legalisation boosts cannabis use long-term among younger people. One long-term study, by Frankfurt’s Centre for Drug Research, notes a decline in cannabis use among 18-25 year-olds in the last 20 years. Centre head, Bernd Werse says that even conservative politicians he meets are resigned to regulating rather than fighting cannabis.

“Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that possible in Germany,” said Dr Werse, head of the centre at Frankfurt’s Goethe University. “Most people have nothing to do with the issue but, when you explain the risks attached to bans, many are at least open to trial legalisation.”

Brugger Burg agrees that the emotional arguments against cannabis legalisation in Germany have run their course. He says, however, many in the cannabis scene are disappointed that plans for licensed growers and sellers – for casual users and partygoers – may be delayed or abandoned. With 60 members, he envisions his Stuttgart association as similar to a relaxed cigar club.

“We won’t start growing until we know it is legal,” he said. “But when we have our cannabis social club, people will eventually realise that it’s not the end of the world.”