Before legalisation in Germany, the government decides to evaluate all possible data. On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Addiction and Drugs (ISD) has collected and evaluated experiences with different approaches from around the world to the legalisation of cannabis. The description is available in the form of a report. The results are based on an extensive review of 164 studies (by early 2023) and a study by five experts from Canada, the US and Uruguay.
Health protection analysis before legalisation in Germany
One of the report’s topics was health protection analysis before cannabis legalisation in Germany. Researchers found that where cannabis has been legalised, the number of adults using cannabis has been increasing even before legalisation. It was possibly due in part to the licence to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. There has also been a further increase in cannabis consumption following legalisation. Therefore, we can expect that after legalisation, cannabis consumption will continue to grow in Germany.
Legalisation itself initially appears to have only minor short-term effects on overall consumption growth. However, long-term studies show that cannabis use has increased faster where recreational cannabis is legal. The delay in demonstrating the effects of cannabis legalisation is likely due to the fact that it takes months or even years for the legal market to become legal.
Where cannabis use has increased as a result of cannabis legalisation, there has also been a slight increase in emergency department visits. The reasons were acute and chronic cannabis-related adult problems. The number of road accidents also slightly increased in many regions after legalisation. It should be noted, however, that no short-term increase in psychotic diagnoses was observed as a result of legalisation.
Cannabis legalisation and the protection of children and young people
Legalisation increases the subjective availability of cannabis for young people. However, this circumstance does not necessarily lead to a short-term increase in youth consumption. Nevertheless, studies with a follow-up of at least two years after legalisation show that teenage cannabis use in US states with legal markets has increased more than elsewhere.
It should be noted that in the markets with available edible cannabis, cases of poisoning among children under 10 years of age immediately and significantly increased. However, an increase in these cases has been prevented by only allowing food items that are not appealing to children. Countries can avoid an increase in these cases by taking appropriate regulated precautions.
Cannabis legalisation and the illegal market
Indirect observations indicate that the illicit market has decreased significantly as a result of legalisation. However, the exact extent is difficult to estimate and varies by country, state, and province. In Canada in three years after legalisation, 63% of users said they had never obtained marijuana from illegal sources. In the much more tightly regulated Uruguay, the legal market share is believed to be well below 50%.
There are important factors that determine whether users buy cannabis legally or not. These are retail price, product quality, trust in the point of sale and product, and convenience. Therefore, on the one hand, access to the legal cannabis market should be made as easy as possible. So that those already using it can switch from illegal to legal suppliers. On the other hand, there is a risk that more people will start consuming hemp due to a very attractive market or attractive legal products. Of course for-profit companies aim to open up new groups of consumers. However, this would not be in line with health protection as it could increase the number of problems around cannabis usage.
Action recommendations before cannabis legalisation in Germany
Based on the available scientific and empirical research, ISD recommends regulating the legal market. Especially in the field of health and youth protection. The aim of legalisation should be to create a legal offer for people currently consuming. However, without increasing the attractiveness of starting consumption. Thus, the path must be careful, with a lot of regional testing.
To achieve this goal, the government in Germany should limit the development of a commercial market before full cannabis legalisation. Germany can achieve it, for example, by establishing a state monopoly on sales or geographically restricting sales licences. The approval of non-commercial growers (social cannabis clubs) should also be considered in this context. A comprehensive marketing ban covering traditional channels (television, billboards) but also digital channels (websites, social media) is also effective in limiting the attractiveness of legal products for non-consumers. With this in mind, storefronts should also be designed as discreetly as possible. Finally, smart pricing could create incentives for low-risk consumption patterns.
In addition to these, the sellers must ensure and respect the minimum age of not less than 18 years of age. Unlike what is often the case with tobacco and alcohol. According to the report, government can be able to punish breaking this law. For example, with the temporary or permanent revocation of the licence to sell. To avoid unintentional cannabis intoxication in children and adolescents, the design of legal cannabis products should be appropriate. They should do it in such a way that they are not attractive to children, it refers especially to edibles. In addition to limiting the range of products, food products should occur in child-resistant containers. Shops also should sell them in small units with a maximum THC content of 10 mg per unit.