Legislation Once again, current events show that there is a great deal of change going on in Germany and that developments regarding medicinal cannabis are increasing in pace. However, public opinion is changing faster than politics and legislators can keep up. Read more here.
Cannabis becoming a political issue in Germany
Not even two months after the German government announced its intent to establish a cannabis agency, the details of the legislative bill have been published. It seems that Germany’s national government is on track to adopt a law this year that will:
- define cannabis buds as a medicine that physicians and pharmacists will be able to prescribe to patients with relative ease;
- make national permits for the distribution of cannabis unnecessary;
- make it possible to receive compensation of the costs from health insurers in certain cases;
- call into being a cannabis agency to safeguard supply, and issue licences for as well as monitor the cultivation of medicinal cannabis.
Because in a legal sense buds are not a registered medicine or preparation but an “active substance,” the German drugs legislation (BtMG) will have to be amended. There are no other exceptions for cannabis in the pipeline at the moment. Until 2018, compensation for the costs of medicinal cannabis will remain linked to the stipulation that recipients participate in a study that will inform the discussion on who will be required to bear the costs of the provision of cannabis as from 2019. The same provision applies to Dronabinol and Nabilon. Most patients’ associations are positive about the legislation, but are critical of the requirements attached to compensation. When Germany’s first medicinal cannabis plants will be cultivated, and by who, is currently unknown, neither is it stated in the legislative bill published in January.
Bavaria rejects citizens’ initiative on cannabis
Despite the initial hurdle of 25,000 signatures being surpassed, Germany’s most cannabis-unfriendly state rejected a citizens’ initiative on cannabis. Now, following receipt of the signatures, the Bavarian parliament has doubts about its jurisdiction, as the bill concerns national legislation and not federal law. As such, the Bavarian Supreme Court had to examine the issue and on 26 January 2016, the judges endorsed the position of the federal government, which is led by the CSU. Cannabis legislation is a national issue and as such, it may not be decided upon at the federal level. In addition, the judges were critical of the many substantial and procedural errors made by the initiators. Insiders had feared that the attempt to legalise cannabis at the state level would be a step too far for even the most liberal scholar’s of constitutional law and therefore unrealistic.
However, the activists surrounding Vaclav Wenzel Cerveny will not let themselves be discouraged so easily and after the judgment, they announced a second citizens’ initiative aimed at the decriminalisation of cannabis. Experts expect this initiative to have a much better chance of succeeding, but it is nowhere near that point yet. The next great event of the Bavarian cannabis federation and its supporters will be the second cannabis trade fair in Munich. The first edition of Cannabis XXL took place in 2015 in the capital of Bavaria and despite its low attendance, it caused quite a commotion. It will be held again in 2016 from 8 to 10 July in the den of the Bavarian lion.
Limit of one nanogram remains in place
As regards driving under the influence of cannabis, Germany maintains a norm of one nanogram of THC/ml of blood serum – the strictest THC limit in the world. There is no other country in which so many drivers who have recently used cannabis are fined, banned from driving or have their licences revoked.
These strict rules were in part set by the ‘Grenzwertkommission‘, a multi-disciplinary working group of scientists and experts that informs Germany’s national government in the determination of limit values. This group consists of, among others, medical-legal experts, medical-traffic engineers, forensic experts and toxicological chemists. The Grenzwertkommission is the same committee that last autumn criticised the concept of “blood alcohol content” in an article in the trade press, and, regarding cannabis, recommended that the maximum level be increased to 3 ng. Unfortunately, only five affected drivers responded to these statements while politicians remained silent. The drivers’ lawyers saw in the article reason to contest the driving bans and licence revocations previously imposed upon their clients; all five had values of 1 to 3 ng in their blood and were, in fact, sober. As the German courts have so far followed the proposals of the Grenzwertkommission and because there are many marginal cases currently pending in Germany, there was a great deal of interest in the decision that was to be made by the court in Gelsenkirchen. Eventually, the court opted not to follow the reasoning of the Grenzwertkommission, despite the committee’s chair, Thomas Daldrup, acting as a witness during the process. The objections were denied and the revocations remained in effect. With this, the extremely severe limit of 1 ng remains in force, although the consulting committee has deemed it unjust. The national government also has no intention of listening to the recommendations of its own panel of experts or of amending the law, and the five victims are left to hope for a more favourable judgment in an appeal case.
Nothing is easy
Once again, current events show that there is a great deal of change going on in Germany and that developments regarding medicinal cannabis are increasing in pace. However, public opinion is changing faster than politics and legislators can keep up. As is clearly illustrated by the process of legislating the medicinal use of cannabis, those in power only take action when they are left with no other choice. For this reason, change will only come to Germany’s repressive south, and Bavaria in particular, where traffic violations are concerned when enough people take action or are prepared to turn to the courts in order to stamp out the injustice being done to them. Without the charges that were brought against Günther Weiglein and his supporters, it is likely that no bill would have been drafted on the establishment of a cannabis agency. Only once more activists stand up, such as in Bavaria, or when more brave drivers turn to the courts, will Germany move to make changes to other important aspects of its cannabis policy in the foreseeable future. Because remember: “there are no other exceptions for cannabis in the pipeline at the moment.”