European Union: Peter Homberg Speaks About Germany's Decision To Legalize Medical Cannabis With LABIOTECH.Eu

Last Updated: 19 March 2018
Article by Peter Homberg

Peter Homberg, Partner and Head of Dentons German Life Sciences practice, gave insights about the recent legalization of medical cannabis in Germany in, a leading digital portal for news in the European biotech-industry. The German Parliament judged in March, that cannabis can be used and cultivated for medical use from now on. Homberg comments on this decision and compares with opinions from other EU-countries on this matter, giving an overview of the current legal situation in the European Union.

In March 2017, the German parliament voted for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes. This meant that many changes had to be made within its legislation. A year on, much has changed in this respect. Moreover, other EU member states have been closely monitoring Germany's progress in the legalization of medical cannabis and are now following suit.

When the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa, is legalized for medical use, this means that authorities allow the distribution of therapeutics that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the key psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. This includes cannabis extract in mouth sprays, dried cannabis flowers for brewing in tea or vaporizing, or capsules containing THC.

The legalization process in Germany has been strictly performed and controlled by the government. Law firms, on the other hand, are responsible for advising companies, who want to import, cultivate and distribute cannabis in Germany.

We have caught up with Peter Homberg, Partner and Head of the German Life Sciences Practice at Dentons. Dentons is one of the top 10 global law firms and present in over 50 countries. For the past few years, Peter and his team have been monitoring the legalization process for medical cannabis closely. They have been watching the developments in German legislation and the pharmaceutical market, and advised and informed their clients on regulatory issues of import and future cultivation of cannabis in Germany.

Peter has spoken to us about the latest developments in Germany in regards to medical cannabis, and the effect Germany's change of heart has had on other EU member states. Namely, countries such as Denmark and Portugal, who are taking their first steps towards legalizing cannabis for medical use.

The legalization of cannabis for medical use has experienced a widespread wave of interest and support in Europe. Why is this topic becoming so important now, within governments and the scientific community?

Although Germany has one of the strictest narcotic laws in Europe, it changed its mind on medical cannabis last year. The German parliament voted that cannabis could not only be used for medicinal purposes, but also be cultivated within the country under strict regulations.

In a domino-like effect, the governments of several other EU member states have started thinking about the legalization of medical cannabis as well. As Germany is one of the largest economies in Europe, other countries can also see the positive impact this legalization process has had on its economy and its patient community.

In 2017, the German parliament voted for the legalization of cannabis for medical use. What is the current state of affairs in regards to the legalization process?

Since the legalization of cannabis for medical use, a number of laws have been adjusted. The majority of these changes were implemented in March 2017 and when it comes to the legislation, there are no matters outstanding. However, specific regulations still need to undergo a certain refinement, as they came into discussion after the legalization.

The import of irradiated cannabis, for instance, is still being discussed. Whereas one side argues that this process allows for the complete elimination of mould from cannabis leaves, the other argues that it might not be safe for patients. What's more is that the German authorities have yet to decide whether cannabis counts as a raw material or a pharmaceutical. A lot of regulations and approvals depend on that decision.

The next step in the legalization process is the granting of per-lot licenses for companies to grow and distribute cannabis. Overall, 10 licenses will be distributed to a small number of companies. At Dentons we are closely monitoring this process and advising our clients in regards to regulatory affairs and tender processes.

Before cannabis was legalized for medical use in Germany, patients who needed cannabis had to apply for a specific exemption at the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM). The regulations were very strict, so only about 700 people were granted the permission to use medical cannabis.

To date, Germany's top 3 health insurance companies have already received approximately 13.000 applications for reimbursement for the use of medical cannabis. This already shows the economic impact that the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes has and will have on the German market.

Although the effects and use of cannabis are highly controversial, there is growing evidence that it can impact patients' quality of life. What is the significance of cannabis for patients specifically?

For medical purposes, cannabis can be used, for example, as an alternative for other pain therapies, which may not be working or have strong side effects. People with chronic pain, for example, often experience strong side effects from their pain medications. These can be alleviated with cannabis.

Amongst other indications, cannabis may also relieve symptoms of cancer patients and multiple sclerosis patients. It contains THC. That is the component it is most famous for. THC binds to specific receptors in the human central and peripheral nervous system called cannabis receptors (CB). For example, if THC binds to CB1 in the spinal cord, this reduces the perception of pain.

There have been several developments in regards to the legalization of cannabis in various other European countries, for example in Portugal. How are the processes looking there?

In Portugal, parliament is currently considering the legalization of cannabis for medical use. Although Portugal has one of the most liberal policies on drugs in Europe, they have still to decide whether to legalize medical cannabis.

Oddly enough, Portugal owns legal cannabis plantations since 2017, which grow the plant for export. The debate is even considering to allow patients to grow their own cannabis at home. This, however, is an issue that is still being discussed.

For scientist and doctors alike, the legalization of medical cannabis is not only seen as a way of alleviating patients' pain and other symptoms, but also as a means to conduct more research into the topic.

How does Denmark's approach to the legalization of cannabis differ from the Portugal?

As of January 1st, 2018, Denmark has initiated a four-year medical cannabis pilot program. It's guidelines are laid out in the act of medical cannabis pilot program, which allows companies to apply for admission of cannabis products at the Danish Medicines Agency.

Products that have been accepted by the Danish Medicines Agency are free to be legally prescribed by doctors and distributed by pharmacies within Denmark.

To date, scientific research into the effects of medical cannabis has been restricted by the law. With the start of the medical cannabis pilot program, Denmark is encouraging research projects in order to gather more science-based information about the use and effect of cannabis for medical use. For this purpose, the Danish government has allocated a DKK 5 million fund.

Unlike Germany, Denmark does not reimburse patients, who take medical cannabis unless all other possible medical products have failed them. This may affect patients with indications, such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and patients suffering from severe chronic pain.

In Italy cannabis has been legalized for medical use for a while, how does their legalization process look?

The Italian Ministry of Health has been coordinating and monitoring the legalization process for medical cannabis. Since November 2015, it has had the power to distribute cultivation, production, possession and use permits.

In Italy, only licensed farmers are allowed to cultivate cannabis and deliver it to the Ministry of Health. The ministry then allocates the plant for production of an active substance, which is then bought by pharmacists. These, in turn, produce magistral preparations, which can be prescribed by doctors. Also, doctors have to specify which genetic strain is to be used by the patient, as well as the amount and consumption method: vaporizing or the infusion in hot water.

For medical purposes, cannabis in Italy is to be prescribed as a secondary treatment, which supports standard treatments for a number of indications: chronic pain, cancer, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma, spasticity and Tourette syndrome.

Let's take a look across the pond. How are legalization processes looking in America?

During its legislative period, the Obama Administration issued a policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from pursuing cannabis-related criminal cases in states, which legalized the use of cannabis either for medicinal purposes or casual use. In California, for example, cannabis was recently liberalized for casual use.

However, recently the attorney general of Trump's Administration, Jeff Sessions, dismissed the Obama Administration's policy. This means that the non-interference of the federal government does no longer exist and the federal prosecutors could interfere with the states' decisions of the legalization of cannabis.

This has triggered looming, open questions in the US: What does this actually mean? What are the legalization processes now? For companies manufacturing, processing and distributing cannabis this has left a lot of uncertainty, as well as for users.

What impact will the widespread legalization of cannabis for medical use have in Europe and globally?

What we will definitely see are more and more clinically trials. This will set out to observe and prove the effects of cannabis on various indications. We will soon know what indications it can be used for, where it makes sense.

Of course, there are certain publications already, but the fact that the use of cannabis for medical purposes has been illegal in most countries, has made the execution of scientific clinical trials basically impossible. This will soon change.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions