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Germany becomes biggest E.U. country to legalize marijuana possession

German cannabis campaigners and aficionados lit celebratory joints at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate at midnight early Monday, gathering for a legal “smoke-in” to mark the nation’s newly liberalized law on marijuana coming into effect.

Germany’s government passed legislation allowing adults to possess small amounts of the drug, making it the largest European Union country to legalize it for recreational use.

Adults can now carry up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of marijuana and keep up to 50 grams at home. They can also grow up to three plants for personal use under the law that was passed by Germany’s federal council last month and took effect Monday.

The purchase and sale of cannabis is still prohibited and can lead to fines and imprisonment.

Adults who don’t want to grow their own plants, however, can join “cannabis clubs” starting in July. They are licensed nonprofit growing cooperatives capped at 500 members who must “actively participate in the cultivation” to access the club’s cannabis. “The law does not provide for passive membership that is aimed solely at purchasing cannabis,” the Bundesrat, effectively Germany’s upper house, said in its announcement of the law.

Marijuana has slightly more restrictions for young adults between ages 18 and 21, and it is still illegal for minors.

“Today, the state is ending decades of police harassment of harmless cannabis users. This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Georg Wurth, director of the German Cannabis Association, which has been campaigning for cannabis legalization for decades. “The whole world is looking at Germany today. There will be many imitators.”

Though the amounts permitted in Germany are relatively small — adults are allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis flower in New York, for example — the new law still makes Germany one of the most lenient countries on marijuana in the European Union.

Malta also has among the bloc’s most open laws on marijuana, allowing adults to carry up to seven grams, though smoking in public is still prohibited. Luxembourg last year began allowing residents to cultivate cannabis for personal use. Despite the Netherlands’ reputation for being relaxed on marijuana, it is still illegal to possess or sell marijuana there. But is does have a policy of “toleration” that allows coffee shops to sell small quantities of the drug.

At the Brandenburg Gate at the turn of midnight from Sunday to Monday, people danced and played music, held signs and took photos with a large fake cannabis plant, while filling the air above them with a cloud of smoke. “We don’t want to be criminals!” read one attendee’s sign.

“Celebrate the end of the cannabis ban with us legally! You can ignite at 12 a.m.” the German Cannabis Association’s Berlin chapter wrote on social media to promote its event.

The legislation was brought by Germany’s ruling coalition, made up of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats.

“Cannabis consumption was already around yesterday and has been increasing. Now it is coming out of the taboo zone,” wrote Health Minister Karl Lauterbach of the SPD on X. He said the new legislation is better for addiction help, youth prevention and combating the black market.

Some within the federal government expressed concerns about the law leading up to and after its passage.

Friedrich Merz, opposition leader and head of the Christian Democratic Union, in a March 24 statement lodged concerns about traffic risks caused by “stoned drivers,” youth health risks and bureaucratic and judicial burdens if past criminal convictions are overturned. He has vowed to overturn the law should his party win in national elections next year, local media reported.

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