Countries across the globe have made strides to expand the legalization of cannabis for medical and adult use. In the U.S., 24 states have legalized the sale and consumption of adult-use cannabis, while 40 states have legalized medical marijuana.

As mentioned in my previous article, Germany is preparing to reclassify cannabis as a non-narcotic in 2024, which will, in turn, expand its medical cannabis market. The country will roll out licensed cannabis clubs that will be able to cultivate and distribute cannabis to adult members. Under the proposed bill, Germany will allow adults to possess up to 25 grams of cannabis for recreational purposes and grow up to three plants at home.

With headway being made for cannabis legalization across both North America and Europe, one of the questions often posed is: What about restorative justice and social equity? 

As a business leader at the forefront of medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis legalization, I firmly believe that legalization, social equity and restorative justice should coincide. For Germany, on the cusp of medical marijuana market expansion and looking to legalize the entire value chain, it’s important to learn from the steps taken by the U.S. to right the wrongs of unjust cannabis prohibition and ensure equitable ownership and opportunities in licensed markets.

Cannabis criminalization continues to have long-term devastating effects on those convicted, their families and their communities. According to the Last Prisoners Project (LPP), a U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to cannabis justice reform, 15.7 million people have been arrested over the past two decades for non-violent, cannabis-related offenses. Across the states, millions still hold criminal records for cannabis-related crimes and tens of thousands are serving sentences behind bars for related convictions.

In Germany, while fewer people have been charged with cannabis-related crimes, it still represents a portion of total crimes. According to First Wednesday’s “The Social Impact of Cannabis” report, in 2021, Germany recorded 214,000 cannabis-related offenses, 85 percent of which were consumption-related. In total, cannabis consumption offenses accounted for half of all recorded drug crimes and 3.5 percent of all crimes that year. 

According to the German Monitoring Center for Drugs and Addiction, as of March 2019, almost 7,000 people were imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses, accounting for 13.4 percent of all inmates. While the number of those imprisoned for cannabis-related crimes is notably fewer than those serving sentences for similar crimes in the U.S., it’s important to recognize those impacted as well as legal actions that can be provided through restorative justice. 

According to U.S.-based LPP, to adequately address the harm caused by past cannabis criminalization, “legalization programs should provide retroactive relief through state-initiated record clearance and resentencing.” The erasure of criminal cannabis records removes the barriers they impose on employment, housing, education and loan opportunities. Resentencing requires the criminal courts to reconsider cannabis-related sentences in places where these sentences no longer constitute incarceration. 

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Social equity seeks to help ensure that people from communities whom the War on Drugs has disproportionately harmed are included in the legalized cannabis industry. Every social equity program varies from country to country, state to state and, in some cases, city to city, like in the U.S. 

For example, the City of Los Angeles’s Social Equity Program operates under its mission “to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry in order to decrease disparities in life outcomes for marginalized communities and to address the disproportionate impacts of the War on Drugs in those communities.” Services provided by the program include application processing, business, licensing and compliance assistance, a fee deferral program, pro bono legal services and a seed grant program. By January 2022, LA had distributed 358 temporary social equity licenses to retailers, cultivators, manufacturers and distributors and is seeking to transform the temporary licenses into annual ones. 

To be eligible for the LA’s Social Equity Program, an individual must either have been arrested or convicted for a cannabis-related crime prior to November 2016, belong to a disproportionately impacted area or be “low income” (80 percent or below-area-median income for the city based on a 2016 American Community Survey).

Despite their success stories, social equity programs still need to improve in meeting the needs of their applicants and businesses. Some have criticized the LA program’s lack of startup capital provided to social equity businesses, especially as the law requires them to secure a premise before applying for a social equity license. 

While it is yet to be determined whether social equity will play a role in the future German cannabis market, the draft of the country’s adult-use cannabis law will have a restorative justice component. Under the new legislation, individuals who harbor previous convictions for possession or for cultivating up to 25 grams of cannabis, or a maximum of three plants, can request to have their records expunged from the federal central register.

With all eyes on Germany for cannabis legalization, now is an optimal time for business leaders in the space to take steps to further social equity and restorative justice. Industry leaders should educate themselves on social equity and restorative justice beyond the information provided in this article. German business owners should also seek out and support the grassroots organizations pushing for these actions within the country. 

In addition, German business owners can reach out to their local legislators to discuss their plans to incorporate further measures to implement restorative justice and social equity into the cannabis market. As owners of cannabis companies within the German medical cannabis and soon-to-be adult-use markets, it’s important to look inward. To further advance these goals, industry leaders can seek to advance minority-owned business opportunities, uplift minority employees and give a voice to less-advantaged people of color within the space. One of the most important steps is for companies to review their recruitment materials and hiring practices to ensure that they are free of bias and use language to attract a diverse range of candidates.

 With all eyes on Germany for cannabis legalization, now is an optimal time for business leaders in the space to take steps to further social equity and restorative justice.  Read More