Germany has set out plans to legalise cannabis, a change the country’s health minister said could serve as a precedent for the rest of Europe.
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Karl Lauterbach said: “If this law comes to pass, it would be the most liberal project to legalise cannabis in Europe, but also the most regulated market.
“It could be a model for Europe.”
Under the plan, it would be legal for adults to buy and possess up to 30g of cannabis for recreational use and to privately grow up to three plants.
Licensed shops would be able to sell the drug.
Mr Lauterbach said the aim was to better protect young people, many of whom are already using weed after buying it on the black market.
A quarter of the four million people who used weed in Germany last year were aged 18 to 24, he said.
The minister did not give a specific timeline for the plan, which would make Germany the second European Union country to make cannabis legal after Malta.
The rules “realistically won’t take effect before 2024”, he said.
Many European countries, including Germany in 2017, have legalised cannabis for limited medicinal purposes.
Others have decriminalised its general use, while stopping short of making it legal.
The government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has approved the plans but needs the approval of the EU. It intends to submit its plans to the European Commission this week and seek an opinion.
The government also plans to introduce a consumption tax.
Legalising weed could bring the country tax revenue and cost savings of 4.7 billion euros a year, a survey found last year.
Mr Lauterbach, who was previously sceptical about cannabis legislation, argued the system is not working as consumption is rising and the illegal market flourishing.
He said Germany does not want to emulate the model in the Netherlands, which combines decriminalisation with little market regulation.
Shops selling weed would not be allowed to stock alcohol or tobacco and could not be near schools.
The health minister said the government does not plan to set a price, but does intend to set quality requirements.
The decision has provoked a mix of reactions in Europe’s biggest economy.
The German pharmacists’ association warned of the health risks of legalising cannabis and said it would put pharmacies in medical conflict.
Pharmacists are health care professionals, so “a possible competitive situation with purely commercial providers is viewed particularly critically,” Thomas Preis, head of the North Rhine Pharmacists’ Association, told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
Other were more positive about the plan.
Lars Mueller, chief executive of SynBiotic, a cannabis company, said the decision was “almost like winning the lottery” for his company.