By Eamon O’Callaghan and Leonie Kupferschmidt
The secret exchange of baggies filled with weed could soon be a thing of the past in Berlin, with the German government planning to legalise Cannabis. Such a change brings with it the potential for broad societal and economic impacts: What is the current state of legalisation and how could it affect the economy and society? Experts from business and health provide insights.
In the future, cannabis could be cultivated in Germany not only for medicinal purposes, but also as a recreational substance. © DEMECAN
It doesn’t matter in which hipster district or park you hang out in Berlin; the sweet smell of a joint is almost always wafting from somewhere. The fact that cannabis is neither legal nor regulated in Germany and can only be obtained with a prescription in pharmacies, doesn’t seem to bother anyone here. Not even the bar owners in gentrified Neukölln, in whose outdoor areas the spliffs are rolled and smoked. Among other things, to better control this behaviour, the German government is now planning to legalise it.
In September 2022, the Ministry of Health presented a key point paper on cannabis legalisation and according to government circles in Berlin, the draft law is to follow this April. The governing coalition partners have agreed to allow a “controlled distribution of cannabis for consumption purposes to adults in licensed shops”. The sale, purchase and possession of cannabis are to become permissible. According to the federal Drug Commissioner Burkhard Blienert the primary goal of the legalisation will be to push back against black market and to “ensure the best possible health protection for consumers and to ensure the protection of children and young people.”
Effects on Germanys economy
Medical cannabis is already produced in Germany today. There are only three companies producing at this stage, which were selected in a Europe-wide tendering procedure commissioned by the Cannabis Agency (part of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Products, editor’s note). In this procedure, all pharmaceutical and narcotic legal requirements were taken into account. Two of these contracts went to Canadian stock market companies and one to the “underdog” company DEMECAN based in Berlin.
In the case of legalisation “the German market is expected to be between 500,000 and 1 million kg of cannabis. That would definitely be billions of euros generated. It will be a very big market,” says Adrian Fischer, CO-Founder of Demecan. Based on the specifications for recreational cannabis, Fischer’s company would also expand production: “If there’s room for very well-controlled, high-quality cannabis, then we definitely want to do that.” Not only would this increase production, but the number of jobs at Demecan could also increase by 70 per cent. For Germany as a whole, 27.600 more jobs are predicted. However, Demecan does not want to become a mass producer like those in the USA or Canada, where up to 200 thousand kilograms are produced per year. “I don’t think that’s our goal. We would rather stick to a slightly smaller company producing the highest quality and always new and exciting products, maybe grow up to 10,000 kilograms,” Fischer tells.
But not only cannabis companies would benefit from legalisation, but with taxes, social security revenue and saved legal costs the state could also generate 4.7 billion euros annually.
Legalisation could generate 4.7 billion euros annually for Germany. Source: Fiscal effects of cannabis legalisation in Germany
Effects on society
Money that would also be good for Berliners and could flow into prevention and therapy work, for Berlin has by far the highest cannabis consumption among German cities. Funding like that generated by the economic boost that would accompany legalisation could flow into bolstering the prevention and therapy work that is already underway in the capital. In Berlin Kreuzberg, on a main street not far from the underground station, there is an addiction counselling centre founded in 1985. Hidden between two snack shops, a young man presses the bell marked “Therapieladen e.V.”. Shortly afterwards, the door opens, and the man enters the stairwell with a mosaic ceiling, which has the flair of an old house. On the second floor, he disappears into the waiting room of the facility. The Therapieladen has been concentrating on Berliners with cannabis problems for almost 30 years and today focuses on the ambulant psychotherapeutic and addiction therapy treatment of people who have developed an “addiction development or also other psychological problems” with cannabis. Andreas Gantner, addiction therapist and head of the therapy shop, hopes above all to destigmatise addicts. “Would it be possible to reach people earlier if it was no longer illegal? How can we lower the thresholds for accepting help, so that we can reach them earlier?” These are hopes that occupy the health system, says Gantner. If you want to buy pot these days, you either have a direct contact person or you just go to Görlitzer Park, where every hundred metres someone wants to sell you pot. Not an environment where you can expect information or advice.
Gorlitzer Park – What Do Locals Think About Legalising Weed?
While the advantages for Demecan, the economy in general and addicts cannot be overlooked, there are still voices against legalisation. The German police union is worried about the protection of minors and fears “wild growth of the stoner scene”. Still, industry associations and experts mostly see possibilities in legalisation. I think the main thing that it brings is that something can be controlled which currently cannot be controlled at all,” Fischer explains. It is a good example of how transparency and rules can create more safety. In addition, jobs that currently exist on the black market would become legal, Fischer says. “And I think that’s much better for everyone involved, including the people who are currently working on the black market.”
Look into the future
In the German government and society, there is a majority desire for legalisation, but it may take some time before that happens. “The government has to put something in place by the end of the year so that there’s a clear outline on what is going to happen and when,” explains the co-founder of Demecan. “And then maybe we will see full legalisation at the end of 2024, maybe mid-2025 or a pilot project even sooner.” But only if the law makes it through the European Commission. At the moment, there are expert opinions both in favour and against. It also remains to be seen whether one of the EU countries will object. In that case, however, there are other options to make smoking cannabis legal. For example, with a pilot project like the one to be introduced in the Netherlands at the end of the year: There will be ten vetted cannabis producers who will be the only ones to supply the coffee shops, and then they have a scientific evaluation that conforms to EU law and to international drug legislation, Fischer explains.
It remains to be seen what legalisation will look like and when it will come. Until then, joints will have to continue to be smoked illegally on the streets of Berlin.