Column Leafly, August 2019
Kai-Friedrich Niermann, Lawyer, KFN+, Germany
The Cannabis Control Act and Social Responsibility
In the last column we dared to look into the future. Today we want to take a closer look at how a socially responsible legalisation could be implemented in practice. Here too, the Cannabis Control Act of the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Group already mentioned in the last column offers a series of proposals on how to combine the protection of minors, consumer protection and prevention.
This column is the prelude to a regular series in which various aspects of the Cannabis Control Act and a possible legalisation of cannabis are presented and examined with a view to their practical implementation. As the law is a fully elaborated draft that takes into account fiscal aspects as well as foreign trade law and international obligations, it is likely that the Cannabis Control Act will be the blueprint for any reform towards a more modern drug policy. In this respect, it is worthwhile to take a detailed look at the regulations proposed there from time to time.
The Cannabis Control Act provides for the approval of so-called cannabis specialist shops. Specialist cannabis shops directly attached to an agricultural holding may even bear the name „farm shop“.
Specialist cannabis shops may not be operated in the immediate vicinity of a school or other facility for children and adolescents. The federal states are authorized to regulate minimum distances between specialist cannabis shops and to set a maximum number of specialist shops.
The prescribed social concepts are a central component of the Cannabis Control Act. Before opening a specialist cannabis shop, a representative for the development of a social concept must be appointed, who develops a social concept for the specialist cannabis shop. This social concept must set out measures relating to the prevention of addiction, the protection of minors and the training of sales staff. Section 23 (2) even expressly states that risky cannabis use must be counteracted.
The sales personnel shall also refuse to hand over the goods if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been passed on to children and adolescents. Before entering a cannabis specialist shop, an identity card check must be carried out to prevent the entry of adolescents and children. Sales staff must also provide consumers with adequate advice.
“Responsible Selling“ Certificate
To meet these requirements, sales personnel must have successfully participated in a training course and obtained a certificate called „Responsible Selling“. These training courses are to be held at the state or specialist agencies for addiction prevention or at comparably qualified institutions. This certificate is valid for two years and must be extended by further training.
In order to obtain this certificate, future cannabis sellers must demonstrate knowledge of cannabis use, in particular how cannabis works and is dangerous, and how risky patterns of use can be identified at an early stage. There is also a need to acquire knowledge on how to prevent cannabis dependence and how to refer people to counselling centres or treatment centres. The sales staff should inform the customers about the addiction risks of the cannabis products on offer and provide information about harm reduction in forms of consumption such as vaping or tobacco-free consumption.
Information material on risks of consumption and information and contact data on qualified counselling centres and therapy facilities shall be clearly visible.
These rules make it clear that cannabis is not an ordinary product that can be sold like chips or chewing gum in petrol stations or supermarkets. The dealer doesn’t care who he sells his stuff to, but the cannabis control law does. The Cannabis Control Act is well aware that cannabis products have a pharmacological and psychoactive effect and that trade and sales require appropriate regulations and precautions.
The regulations ensure that children and adolescents are not given access to cannabis products. Customers with a risky consumption pattern, possibly a dependency, must be advised accordingly. The question whether the supply of cannabis products must also be refused in these cases cannot be answered unequivocally from the law.
The costs for the preparation of a corresponding social concept will not be insignificant for the operator of the specialist shop. So far we know such social concepts only with casino halls, with which a concept must be presented for the conversion of player and youth protection in gambling enterprises. Assuming that 5-8 billion € are actually traded on the black market, a huge number of specialist cannabis shops can be expected in the long run. Here alone, there are immense opportunities for company start-ups in the certification and training sector, as the social associations most probably cannot handle the task on their own.
The costs for the creation of a social concept for casino halls are currently around 2000 €. It is doubtful whether this amount will be sufficient for the initial licensing of a specialist cannabis shop. Too many complicated questions, as outlined above, are likely to lead to significantly higher costs, at least in the initial phase. The certificate „Responsible Selling“ should cost several 1000 € depending on the design and the scope of the training contents. Nor will it be easy to find motivated personnel with the appropriate know-how to provide consumers with sufficiently responsible advice in accordance with the law and to provide the required addiction prevention.
The barriers are therefore high for those interested in entering the cannabis retail market. In addition there are further costs for security measures, because according to § 14 certified safes are to be kept available, and rooms and transport vehicles are to be secured against removal by an alarm system or corresponding security measure. In addition, there are the costs for furnishing and initial inventory.
However, these high barriers to market entry are to be welcomed as they ensure the necessary level of consumer protection. On the other hand, it is to be expected that the required degree of compliance can only be achieved by professional and financially strong chains and brands. As larger professional economic entities, however, they are also better controllable overall.
Under the Cannabis Control Act, advertising is prohibited. Cannabis may only be advertised in specialist journals for professional circles. The external appearance of the specialist cannabis shops should be discreet so that it cannot have an incitatory or incentive character.
For those who wish to grow the plant themselves, the cultivation of up to three female flowering cannabis plants for personal or community use is permitted. In the pacified property of the breeder, under the condition of good security and that children and adolescents have no access, it is also permitted to store an annual harvest of up to three plants, even deviating from the otherwise applicable limit of 30 g own property.
Whether an advertising ban for cannabis is really effective should still be clarified. In this respect, it is the sole responsibility of the sales staff to provide information about the various products and their effects. However, information on cannabis use and widespread education will be essential to enable consumers to make important choices. Here, more differentiated regulations should be reconsidered in detail.
The same applies to whether a ban on mail-order sales in accordance with § 11 (2) really makes sense. By restricting distribution to specialty stores, the goal of preventing risky consumption is achieved. If it is ensured that risky consumption can be ruled out, for example through regular introductions in specialist shops, there is nothing wrong with a mail order business.
It should also be explicitly regulated whether it is allowed to consume in specialty shops, similar to coffee shops in the Netherlands, and at least whether non-alcoholic beverages can be offered. However, since the Cannabis Control Act does not explicitly provide for this, this possibility is to be assumed for the time being.
Both aspects, mail order and local consumption, would limit the traffic with and consumption of cannabis in the public image, which would at least be worth a further discussion.
The Cannabis Control Act with the regulations governing specialist shops describes a balanced system of social responsibility, in which the interests of users and consumers consistently come first. With these regulations a socially responsible legalization is possible. The lack of education and prevention associated with the black market would have come to an end.
However, many questions remain unanswered in detail. The best time to start discussing it is now!
Dried flowers account for only 50 % of consumption in legalised markets. A similar development can also be expected in Germany. In the next column we will therefore deal with new cannabis products and their product safety.