Last Thursday, the German Bundestag debated three bills relating to cannabis.
The first bill, introduced by the “Lefties” proposed considering small amounts of up to 15 grams no longer a criminal offense. Currently, possession of even small amounts of cannabis results in the opening of a penal case, but most cases are suspended a few weeks later due to a “lack of public interest.”
The second bill, introduced by the FDP (Liberals), requested to create a legal basis for cannabis pilot projects in Germany, so individual federal states such as Berlin, Bremen, or cities like Düsseldorf and Münster, can implement corresponding plans. So far, the Federal Ministry of Health has rejected such applications in principle because, according to the Ministry, there is no legal basis for doing so.
Meanwhile, the Greens have presented a 69-page draft bill on cannabis regulation to the Bundestag. This document grabbed headlines as the cannabis control law three years ago and was one milestone to spark the persisting discussion in German parliament and society alike.
Uncertainty factor SPD
During the debate, the CDU (Conservatives) criticized the legalization plans of the opposition parties, while the right-wing populist AFD frequently mentioned crystal meth, which was not part of the bill’s wording. Most of the SPD (Social Democrat)-MPs sent out positive signals, even though the opinion towards legalization in the second largest parliamentary group in the Bundestag was met with skepticism.
In purely mathematical terms, for the first time a majority of members of parliament in the German Bundestag (the three smaller parties plus parts of the Social democrats) favors the liberalization of cannabis laws. But so far, none of the three proposals have been voted upon. Instead, they have been forwarded to committees for further consideration in order to submit them once again to Parliament when the coming government is elected to office by the Bundestag.
Enacting new laws has been impossible for months, because almost half a year after the last general election, Germany still has no viable government. As it currently stands, the government will again be formed of a CDU/SPD coalition and all three bills will be blocked, even if one-third of the SPD may already be convinced of the advantages of a regulated cannabis market.
But in Germany, the parliamentary group’s arrangements usually have a higher priority than an MP’s personal opinion. Just like “German Angst,” it is hard to translate “Fraktionszwang,” the word used for it. Party discipline would come quite close. In most cases, the MPs of one party will discuss the issue internally and decide in advance on a common parliamentary veto.
If the SPD-MPs have to stick to this unwritten rule when it comes to the votes on the three bills, there will be neither model projects nor a cannabis control law. Their big partner, Merkel party CDU, did not discuss the topic during the past coalition negotiations and presumably never will in the coming four years. Cannabis simply is not a topic in the recently negotiated coalition contract, regulating governing policy for the next four years in details.
Only in exceptional cases will the governing coalition parties forgo the force to vote unanimously, mostly when it comes to moral issues. For example during the last parliamentary term, on the vote on equal marriage, parliamentarians were exempted from arrangements or their party’s opinion, but guided by their conscience. But it is unlikely that the two future governing parties will consider cannabis laws as a moral issue and drop the “Fraktionszwang”.
If the SPD basis does not speak out clearly for a change in cannabis legislation soon and set the MPs under pressure by doing so, nothing will change in next four years.
After having voted in the legalization of medical cannabis in 2017, the country’s oldest party does not seem to be ready yet for recreational cannabis bills, even though the intra-party discussion on cannabis is gaining momentum.