Stoner Symphony

Why Germany’s Cannabis Bill Is Now On The Brink

Germany’s cannabis decriminalisation bill is set to endure its final and potentially most dangerous political test this week, with government sources suggesting its future now hangs in the balance.

On Friday (March 22), the bill will head to the Bundesrat for a vote which was once considered a formality given that the Federal Council does not technically have the right to reject the bill outright now that it has been approved by the Bundestag.

However, over the last few weeks, this vote has evolved into a fundamental test for CanG, which, by the architect of the bill Karl Lauterbach’s own admission, could see the ‘cannabis law die’ should a mediation committee be called.

With opposition to the bill emerging among the federal states, but growing recognition that the mediation committee could be used by the bill’s opponents to scupper the project, the future of CanG is balanced on a razor’s edge.

How do mediation committees work?

A mediation committee is called when the German lower house (Bundestag), which voted through the bill with a strong majority last month, and the upper house (Bundesrat) disagree.

If the Bundesrat, a federal council composed of political representatives from each of the 16 member states, rejects or wishes to amend a bill passed by the Bundestag, a committee with representatives from both houses is formed to negotiate a compromised version of the bill.

Should a consensus be reached, the committee will issue a recommendation for both houses to consider. The revised bill would then need to be voted on by both houses a second time.

While it’s possible that the committee could be called on a single issue, various German politicians have raised concerns that even if an agreement is reached, there would not be enough time for both houses to vote on the bill before the next general election.

Typically, if a consensus cannot be reached in a mediation committee, the legislation dies.

Lauterbach is understood to have called a ‘crisis meeting’ between the justice, interior, and health ministries in the federal states in an effort to overcome the growing objections to the bill.

This meeting was initially due to take place on Wednesday, March 20, two days ahead of the vote. However, it was cancelled on Tuesday.

Just this morning, the Green’s Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, who has been one of the strongest supporters of the bill, told the German Press Agency: “We are in very constructive discussions with the states and have great hope that the mediation committee will not have to be called.”

A political tool 

According to Handelsblatt, Green and FDP sources suggest federal states led by the CDU/CSU parties are committed to sabotaging the bill, including Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) who said at the end of February that they would “participate in everything that makes this law invalid or delayed or made later, or different.”

Furthermore, as Cannavigia’s CCO Timo Bongartz points out, states that have not come to a unanimous agreement will be counted as ‘neutral’, meaning that their vote in the Bundesrat will count as not in favour of passing the bill.

Saxony is another state dominated by the CDU which has previously suggested it would use the committee to sabotage the bill.

Notably, however, yesterday the SPD spokesperson for Saxony Petra Köpping announced on X that she believed Saxony would would abstain from the vote, adding: “We have decided this because the #CDU does not want to use the #VA (mediation committee) to improve the law, but to block it completely.”

As mentioned above, it is understood that the abstention would count as a vote against the bill, but this speaks to the growing recognition of the committee’s use as a political trap among other parties.

This uncertainty around how the vote is likely to play out is, according to the German Cannabis Business Association (BvCW), already having a negative impact on businesses.

The group’s Vice President Dirk Heitepriem said in a recent press statement: “Our member companies now need planning, investment and legal certainty. A further postponement of the entry into force of the law will endanger many livelihoods.

“The desire for more time for an amnesty and for the countries to prepare is understandable, but we entrepreneurs, patients and farmers do not have this time.”

Why is a mediation committee being considered?

Numerous issues with CanG have been raised by the states, but the key point of contention threatening to derail its progress remains the ‘amnesty rule’.

This stipulates that prison sentences and fines that have historically been imposed, and would no longer be punishable under the new law, would need to retroactively be waived.

With scores of cases potentially needing to be addressed in each of Germany’s 16 federal states, those expected to deal with this monumental administrative headache are pushing back.

Just how much extra work this will mean for the judiciary is currently dependent on who you ask.

According to analysis from The Deutsche Richterzeitung, a respected German legal and political magazine, this would lead to more than 210,000 criminal files nationwide having to be checked retroactively, including 7,000 cases in Saxony, 5,000 in Saxony-Anhalt and 4,500 in Thuringia.

The Ministry of Health has pushed back on these figures, suggesting that the number of complex procedures being examined at short notice would total just 7500 nationwide, and that the bill would eliminate tens of thousands of crimes every year.

Alternative analysis from LEAP Germany (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), suggests that the ‘amnesty regulation’ would only take place at the request of the person concerned, and will only come into force one year later.

“An amount of work seems possible, but on the other hand, there will also be significant relief for both the police and the judiciary due to the elimination of property crimes (around 90,000 consumer crimes every six months).

Furthermore, the immediate suspension of ongoing court proceedings relating to the law would result in ‘immediate significant relief’.

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