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Germans prep for pot legalization

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

The German government has endorsed a law that would legalize recreational cannabis by the end of this year, though with some limitations. The law, which Germany's Parliament is now considering for approval, would allow adults to grow their own marijuana plants for personal consumption at home or, alternatively, to buy and consume small amounts of pot through non-profit social clubs. NPR's Andrea Gutierrez visited one such club in Berlin.

ANDREA GUTIERREZ, BYLINE: It's one of those mild evenings in Berlin that's too nice, too warm to spend indoors, yet the lounge is buzzing with chatter. A few people hover over snacks and coffee. This is a meeting of CSC High ground. They are a cannabis social club.

OLLI WAACK-JUERGENSE: We want to produce cannabis for the members in future when it is allowed. And now we are a political society and activists working on the legalization.

GUTIERREZ: That's Olli Waack-Juergensen. He's on the board of the year-old group, and members may get their wish by year's end. That's when Germany is expected to legalize cannabis for recreational use. And the only legal way to obtain cannabis will be to grow it as a member of a non-profit club like this one, established through one of Germany's beloved traditions, the Verein or member association. Club member Arne Krueger explains it.

ARNE KRUEGER: We have this law in Germany that allows us that seven people, if they agree, can form a Verein and can form a legal entity and they have to follow certain rules. So we organize a lot of our social activities in this legal form.

GUTIERREZ: There's clubs for dachshunds and horse riding and gardening and, of course, sports.

KRUEGER: Every kid in Germany is a member of one or two sport clubs that are fine.

GUTIERREZ: Like any other Verein in Germany, CSC High Ground has a leadership board and bylaws, and members come from all backgrounds and genders and careers. Olli says there's one well-known underground cannabis breeder who has a double life as a teacher.

WAACK-JUERGENSEN: But he will stop teaching in schools when he can live from his growing and breeding.

GUTIERREZ: Medical marijuana is available in Germany, but it's tightly regulated. And commercial dispensaries are still a no-go - for now, anyway. That's a change from the original plan backed by the three-party coalition now running the federal government. According to Robin Hofmann, a researcher of criminal law at the University of Maastricht, that change was to appease the European Union.

ROBIN HOFMANN: Cannabis is illegal within the EU.

GUTIERREZ: So countries with the most relaxed pot laws, such as Malta, still operate in a legal gray area, even in Amsterdam, home of the coffee shop.

HOFMANN: It's not really legal in the Netherlands, it's merely tolerated.

GUTIERREZ: Robin says the EU has to take into account the interests of all member states. So say Germany adopts a more progressive drug policy. There's still Sweden, which is tough on crime and doesn't want drugs to cross the EU's open borders.

HOFMANN: That would mean that if one member state legalized cannabis, it would also lead to more drug tourism, and it would lead to more consumption in other member states that probably have stricter approach to cannabis. And That is perceived as a problem.

GUTIERREZ: The draft law does include safeguards to keep pot away from children and teens. Clubs must appoint prevention officers. And no club may be located within 200 meters of schools or playgrounds. But member Silja Goetzmann believes there's a better way.

SILJA GOETZMANN: (Through interpreter) The best way to protect young people is to educate them and tell them the honest truth, not fairy tales.

GUTIERREZ: That's what she did with her own two teens who grew up knowing she smoked pot.

GOETZMANN: (Through interpreter) They're the only teens I know who don't smoke pot. And all the parents I know who smoke pot but hide it, they have problems with their kids trying it. But my kids say, it's so uncool. My mom does it.

GUTIERREZ: There is a robust legal market for cannabis in Germany. The Federal Health Ministry estimates that 4.5 million adults used cannabis at least once in 2021. Olli expects that, without commercial shops, the illegal market will continue to flourish because clubs alone cannot meet the demand.

WAACK-JUERGENSEN: We are not business because we are always working for the members, not for one or two bosses. It's always for the members.

GUTIERREZ: One-hundred-and-twenty-plus CSC High Ground members whose use of cannabis may soon be above board. Andrea Gutierrez, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Gutierrez (she/her) is an assistant producer on It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders. She's drawn to stories at the intersections of gender, race, class and ability in arts and culture.