German MPs vote to legalise cannabis for personal use

Vote marks rare political victory for reformist political agenda of Olaf Scholz’s coalition

After a tortuous two-year debate German MPs have voted to legalise cannabis. But in a German solution to a German problem, complicated rules, bureaucracy and political squabbles mean legal home-grown marijuana may still be some way off.

On Friday Germany’s cannabis reform proposal was backed by 407 votes to 226 in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, with four abstentions. The vote marks a rare political victory for the reformist political agenda of chancellor Olaf Scholz’s embattled centre-left-liberal coalition.

Ahead of the vote federal health minister Karl Lauterbach – a medical doctor – said he had overcome his own opposition to legalisation after listening to arguments about the benefits of “fighting the black market” with legalised, quality-controlled cannabis.

“Whatever we do, we can’t carry on like this,” said the Social Democratic Party (SPD) minister ahead of the vote. Amid heckling from critics on the opposition benches, Dr Lauterbach warned that “sticking your heads in the sand ... won’t solve a single problem”.


The new rules will legalise possession by adults of up to 25 grams of marijuana for recreational purposes and allow individuals to grow up to three plants on their own.

An alternative to grow-your-own will allow adults join non-profit “cannabis clubs” with cannabis grown for members’ personal consumption: up to 25 grams daily up to a maximum 50 grams each month or 30 grams for under-21s. Multiple memberships will not be allowed, fees would be linked to consumption and the psychoactive strength of the cannabis will be limited by law.

Other components of the bill will ban cannabis advertising and sponsoring and the consumption near schools, sports clubs and playgrounds.

When the SPD-lead coalition took office in December 2021, it vowed to introduce “controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed locations”. But the new regime falls far short of the original plan for licensed outlets around the country. That roll-out was scaled back following opposition by health campaigners, the European Commission and Germany’s main opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

During a heated Bundestag debate on Friday the CDU challenged Dr Lauterbach’s assertion that legalising cannabis use would curtail its use. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Tino Sorge, a CDU MP.

After two nerve-shredding years what did long-term pro-cannabis campaigners have to say about the Friday vote?

“Of course we are happy, but we’ve been preparing for a long time and there are still many hurdles ahead,” said Christian Brugger Burg of the Cannabis Social Club Stuttgart. “There are permits to be applied for and conditions to meet. So this is step in the right direction but not the end of the road.”

CDU-controlled federal states have vowed to intervene when the bill is presented to the Bundesrat, though the upper house of parliament can only delay – and not veto – the bill.

Some aspects of the new rules remain unclear, for instance how to deal with cannabis use and driving – until now strictly forbidden on Germany roads. New legal limits have yet to be decided and the federal transport ministry has promised details on March 31st.

About 4.5 million Germans or 5 per cent of the population say they use cannabis regularly. With Friday’s vote Germany becomes the ninth country to legalise recreational use of cannabis.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin