Until this past January, legally obtaining marijuana in Germany meant clambering through a series of exceptionally German hoops: authorization from a doctor specifying that the prescription of cannabis was a last resort, application and governmental approval for an individual Ausnahmegenehmigung, or “exception permit”, and eventually purchase at an exorbitant price that could run you almost 2,000 euros a month. Last year just over 600 people nationwide had such a permit. However, thanks to a new law passed in January, that number is now likely to grow -- now, the only permit required is a simple prescription from a doctor. Like before, purchases must be made at a pharmacy, but insurance companies are now obligated to cover the cost. Not only will this new law simplify the process for consumers and make medical marijuana vastly more accessible, it will also open doors for new scientific studies on the medical effectiveness of cannabis products and the beginning of government-controlled marijuana cultivation on a national scale.
As with many countries, however, the idea of legalizing medical marijuana has gained traction much more quickly than that of recreational use. Despite the huge stride forward the country made in January, differing regional attitudes toward cannabis means the the path forward for recreational legalization is murky at best.
A country known for its love of the cut-and-dry, Germany has implemented some uncharacteristically vague regulations. Barring the aforementioned medical system, all aspects of marijuana production, possession, and consumption are illegal, with the small exception for cases of “insignificant amounts” (known as geringe Mengen.)
Where it gets tricky is in the actual determination of what constitutes a geringe Menge. A geringe Menge can vary from state to state, city by city, or even between law enforcement officers. For example if you happen to find yourself in Berlin, 10 grams is considered “insignificant” but, even then, law enforcement is not actually obligated to take action until 15 grams.
Travel to Bavaria, a comparatively conservative state, the lawful amount changes to an ambiguous “3 consumable units,” which, according to pro-legalization organization Deutscher Hanfverband (German Hemp Association), comes out to “approximately 6 grams.”
If the needle has moved on recreational use at all, it is moving incredibly slowly and inconsistently, and it will likely be a long time yet before the country can reach a consensus on the matter. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t Germans clamoring for a change. This past Saturday, August 12th, the 21st annual Hemp Parade took place in Berlin, a demonstration for legalization that started in 1997 and last year drew approximately 12,500 participants.
Regardless of legal status, cannabis consumption among young people is also on the rise, and the count of people nationwide who have tried cannabis before or are regular consumers is in the millions.
Recreational legalization might still be a distant glimmer for Germany, but the issue is clearly here to stay, and the government’s demonstrated willingness to step up and take responsibility for the medical marijuana industry indicates an open mindset when it comes to considering new approaches to cannabis reform.