It’s illegal to use cannabis in Germany, though the law tolerates small amounts for private use. Some politicians are pushing for complete decriminalisation, though unusually, the majority of the general public are not in favour. However, the country’s medicinal cannabis market is thriving, and domestic medicinal cannabis should be harvested by 2020.
Cannabis laws in Germany
Can you possess and use cannabis in Germany?
It’s illegal to possess cannabis in Germany, in accordance with the German Federal Narcotics Act (Betäubungsmittelgesetz). Technically, if caught in possession of any drugs, the offender can be punished with up to five years in prison.
However, using cannabis is not listed as an offence. The law offers a range of alternatives to prosecution if the offender is caught with small amounts of cannabis for personal use. These alternatives are decided based on:
- The involvement of others
- The offender’s past history
- Whether or not the public would benefit from the individual’s prosecution
In most cases, German authorities adopt a ‘treatment before punishment’ approach; and often postpone or cancel prison sentences if the offender agrees to receive treatment.
What is a ‘small amount’ of cannabis?
In 1994, the Federal Constitutional Court highlighted the confusion surrounding the term ‘small amount’. At that time, all the German states had different interpretations of what a ‘small amount’ was. The Federal Court of Justice determined that, to decide whether a quantity of cannabis was small or not, the quantity and potency should be taken into account, not the weight. So, for example, a ‘small amount’ of cannabis might contain 7.5 grams of THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’) or less.
It should be noted that some German federal states are more tolerant than others regarding limited personal use of cannabis.
In those cases, the individual must be able to prove that the cannabis was purely for private consumption and wasn’t going to be sold or supplied to others. Additionally, it must be evident that there was no risk of harm to anyone else (for example, having a minor in the vicinity while using it).
The amount that constitutes ‘for personal use’ varies from state to state – from six grams (in most locations) to 15 grams in Berlin.
Can you sell cannabis in Germany?
The sale and supply of cannabis in Germany is regarded as a more serious offence. If caught, the offender could receive a prison sentence of up to five years, in accordance with the Narcotics Act. The penalty range is increased by one to two, or five to 15 years, if there are other aggravating circumstances. For example:
- If the cannabis was supplied to minors
- If minors were involved in the sale or supply
- If large quantities of cannabis were found
- If the individual was operating as part of a gang
- If weapons were found
Can you grow cannabis in Germany?
It’s illegal to cultivate cannabis in Germany, and offenders receive the same penalties as for sale or supply.
In spite of this, the German government has realised the profit-making potential of growing cannabis domestically. At the start of 2019, an official press release stated that 79 bidders had submitted tenders for growing medicinal cannabis in the country; with the final contract being awarded at some point later in the year.
Is CBD legal in Germany?
It’s legal to use, purchase and sell CBD under EU law (as long as it contains less than 0.2% THC). However, be aware that there are some ambiguities in the law. It’s legal to purchase a CBD product from a shop, but other forms of low THC cannabis-products may not be.
For example, a hemp bar owner faces prosecution for selling dried hemp flowers in a tea, and is currently awaiting trial. Hemp is regarded as being low in THC, and it’s ambiguous as to whether the consumption of hemp in this form is prohibited or not.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Germany?
Germany is the only European country that forbids the sale of cannabis seeds. However, as part of the EU, it adheres to the principle of ‘free movement of goods’, which means that shipping cannabis seeds to Germany is legal. So too is ordering them online, as long as they aren’t used to grow cannabis plants.
Medicinal cannabis in Germany
Germany introduced new legislation in 2017, permitting the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Since then, it’s grown to be the biggest medicinal cannabis market in Europe.
Originally, the law only accepted applications from approximately 1,000 patients. By November 2018, this had risen to 40,000. This makes Germany’s medicinal cannabis programme one of the most robust in the continent. At present, around two-thirds of health insurance companies cover the cost of patients who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis.
Up until 2019, Germany relied solely on imported cannabis products from abroad to meet the needs of their patients. This caused problems, with supply usually not meeting demand. The situation is set to change though, as the country moves forward with developing its domestic industry.
Germany’s first harvest of medicinal cannabis is anticipated to be at the end of 2020.
Germany currently has three medicinal cannabis products available to patients. These are Sativex, Dronabinol, and Nabilone. However, they are all expensive, which means that some patients can’t afford them (unless they’re covered by their health insurance).
There’s also the option of obtaining cannabis flowers, which are produced by Bedrocan, Tweed and Aurora. These flowers can be purchased at the patient’s own expense, from the pharmacy.
Obtaining a prescription
Patients can find it difficult to obtain a prescription for medicinal cannabis. Medical practitioners are wary of issuing prescriptions, as they’re sceptical about cannabis’s medicinal effects, or still believe there’s a taboo associated with using it. They also encounter substantial hurdles when seeking approval from health insurance companies.
A further obstacle is the German Health Fund’s wariness of insuring pharmaceutical products in general. As it currently only accepts cannabis flowers, costs are high (especially if compared to other forms of cannabis medication).
Industrial hemp in Germany
Hemp cultivation was made illegal in 1982. However, this ban only lasted fourteen years. In 1996, hemp growth was permitted again – largely due to widescale protests from farmers, scientists and enthusiasts.
Since that time, its cultivation has fluctuated. For example, in 1996, 3,500 hectares were used for hemp, plus 750 acres by the Dutch company HempFlax. By 2011, this cultivation had virtually ceased.
In the years that followed this, the hemp market recovered. Now, Germany is one of Europe’s top five growers; though its harvest yields are dwarfed by neighbouring France.
Politics and cannabis
The Christian Democratic Union (led by Chancellor Angela Merkel) has historically been against legalising cannabis. Indeed, some MPs in the party want to see the existing laws tightened, not relaxed.
Other parties, such as the Green Party, adopt the opposite stance, and call for cannabis to be decriminalised. In 2017, they proposed a bill, The Cannabis Control Act. This not only proposed the legalisation of recreational use, but also outlined a regulated market for the drug’s cultivation, import, processing and sale.
In fact, aside from the Christian Democratic Union and the far-right AfD, every party represented in the Bundestag supports recreational cannabis legalisation. Some politicians have gone even further. For example, district mayor Monika Hermann called for Dutch-style cannabis cafes to be opened in Berlin.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Germany (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:
- 13.3% of young adults (aged 15 to 34) used cannabis in the last year.
- Cannabis and cannabis resin (hash) are the two most commonly seized drugs.
- The majority of Germans are against the legalisation of cannabis. A 2017 survey found that 63% opposed the idea.
Just like many other European countries, cannabis goes back a long way in Germany.
Archaeological digs in Eisenberg, Thuringia (central Germany) show that cannabis was present at least 7,500 years ago. Seeds were discovered in cave dwellings, indicating that these ancient people may have used them in domestic life. Another dig in Wilmersdorf (now part of Berlin) uncovered cannabis seeds in a funerary urn, dating back 2,500 years.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it played an important part in rural German life after this too. 12th century texts, written by the Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen, claim that cannabis “reduces the bad juices and reinforces the strong ones”, and that it could be used to treat headaches. Her research was respected by many, although the Catholic Church was against the use of the drug.
By the 1400s, use of cannabis for medicinal purposes was well-established. Although the Inquisition tried to stamp out use of traditional herbalism, its practice persisted in Germany. This is largely thanks to the medieval universities, who went to great effort to preserve the country’s historic practices.
During this period, cannabis oil was widely used to treat inflammation, coughs, parasitical infections, gonorrhoea and more.
The trading expeditions to Africa and Asia (around the 1500s) were also significant. Sailors returned with ‘Indian Hemp’; much more potent strains of cannabis. These too were incorporated into medical practice, but their use wouldn’t become widespread until the mid-1800s.
Cannabis never really went away in Germany. It continued to be valued as a medicine, food product and ritualistic plant right until the 20th century, when prohibition began to take hold.
Attitudes to cannabis
Germany exhibits mixed attitudes towards cannabis. On the one hand, numerous politicians, scientists and people advocate decriminalising recreational use. However, the leading political party (the Christian Democratic Union), and many people across the country, are against making cannabis legal.
A survey found that the majority of people in Germany were against decriminalising cannabis for recreational purposes. 70% of the women asked didn’t support its legalisation, compared to just 56% of men. Older people were less in favour of continued prohibition; with 72% of people over the age of 60 voting against. For those under 30, just 43% were in support of legalisation.
Fines or charges?
Although small amounts of cannabis for private consumption is tolerated, numbers of cannabis-related charges are on the rise.
Anyone caught with cannabis will be charged, and it is then regarded as a criminal case. Prosecutors may cancel this (and can issue a fine instead). However, even after the case is dropped, the charge remains on the individual’s record for several years. This is sometimes even recorded on the individual’s driving licence too, even if they hadn’t been using cannabis while in a vehicle.
In 2017, there were 209,204 police investigations into cannabis use. These numbers were considerably higher than the previous year. The charges accounted for 3.9% of all recorded offences; one of the most frequent grounds for investigation.
It’s an issue that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Politician Marlene Mortler (Christian Social Union) proposed a new system instead; giving offenders the choice of either paying a fine or receiving help from experts. However, with some countries in Europe (and other parts of the world) decriminalising personal use of cannabis entirely, there’s a possibility that Germany may follow suit.
Will cannabis be legalised in the future?
At the time of writing, it seems likely that the Green Party will play a role in the next government. This is based on their current poll results, which show that public opinion of their policies is high. If this is the case, there is a possibility that their Cannabis Control Act may be passed, which would decriminalise recreational cannabis use completely.
- Disclaimer:While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.