Germany moves full steam ahead to legalize marijuana

Marijuana is on everyone’s lips in Germany, not just in everyday life, but also in politics. The contract for the coalition government of the Social Democrat (SPD), Green and Liberal Democratic (FDP) parties clearly states: “We will introduce controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed establishments”.

To translate these dry words into practical policy, however, numerous hurdles must be jumped. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, the issue involves practically all the departments of the federal government, with the exception of Defense, as the federal official for addiction and drugs, Burkhard Blienert, explains: “It goes through agriculture, protection of minors, police, and it doesn’t stop at the tributary aspects, not by a long way.”

The inclusion of so many instances makes the legislative process complex: “Precisely, it is not a law of a single house, but several points need to be harmonized with each other. The goal is a coherent construction, guaranteeing the protection of health and minors. “

Millions of consumers = billions for the state

Economic scientist Julius Haucap estimates that there are 4 million cannabis users in Germany, most of them only occasional. “We try to calculate what this represents in terms of quantity: we start from a market value of 400 tonnes, which circulates between 4 and 5 billion euros.”

Adding together tax collections and social costs, as well as savings in police and justice resources, Haucap reached almost 5 billion euros a year, in an opinion prepared in the third quarter of 2021 and presented at a conference of experts in mid-2022. .

For five days, he met with around 200 German and foreign experts, as well as representatives from various organizations, from the health sector to the Criminal Customs Department, including the German Hemp Association (DHV).

Among those present was Dirk Heitepriem, vice president of the Federation of the Economic Sector of Cannabis (BvCW). “The most surprising thing for me was that no one discussed the ‘if’ anymore, but only the ‘how’.” According to him, the exchange between groups “who have totally different interests” was marked by openness, collegiality and constructiveness.

Where does the product come from?

The consultation process was also a starting signal for the concrete liberalization of marijuana in Germany, following a roadmap as ambitious as it is open-ended, explains Heitepriem.

“The deal is that in the third quarter the federal government will approve basic points, on the basis of which a bill will be drafted. This will then go to parliament. I assume that the debates will be next year. When the law will be approved and when it comes into force, it is in the hands of parliament.”

By then, you will need to have answered a large number of questions. A central good is: where does the commodity come from? The sector representative sees little room for choice for international trade and imports from traditional producing countries, such as Morocco or Lebanon.

“United Nations conventions stand in the way, as do European regulations. We assume that at least initially there will have to be national production. fifty-fifty, until the necessary production capacities are available.”

Berlin works to regulate the entire cannabis supply chain, from cultivation to consumption, as promised by the government coalition.  But the process is long and complex, and activists are demanding decriminalization already.

Berlin works to regulate the entire cannabis supply chain, from cultivation to consumption, as promised by the government coalition. But the process is long and complex, and activists are demanding decriminalization already.

Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle

The UN conventions on drugs also occupy the federal incumbent Burkhard Blienert, as “until now, agreements based on international law have been interpreted in the sense of rigorously prosecuting cannabis”.

However, one of the UN conventions dates from the 1960s, as the social-democratic politician notes: “Those were different times. health, it is necessary to hold debates and discussions – also on how to understand these agreements in the year 2022.”

Decriminalization already?

Such debates have already had an effect on the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Body (OICE), which recently clarified that “measures to decriminalize personal consumption and possession of small amounts of drugs do not contravene the provisions of the UN drug conventions.” At the same time, the panel notes that the legalization of the entire supply chain, from cultivation to the consumer, through trade, goes beyond the framework of conventions.

Even so, Uruguay and Canada have already legalized the trade and distribution of cannabis, as have 21 American states, thus going against international rules, but without any consequences.

Haucap diagnoses a strong international movement for the legalization of weed, and as Germany is the most populous country in Europe, its neighbors follow with great interest what happens there. “If Germany creates a legal market for cannabis, in my opinion that will send a very positive signal”, evaluates the economist.

However, despite all the signs towards legalization, every three minutes a marijuana user falls into the traps of the German police and justice, still committed to the old national legislation on narcotics. And since it can take years for authorized stores to be able to display the weed on their shelves, activists demand, as a first step, the immediate decriminalization of consumption, as allowed by UN conventions.

Building on this demand, the most recent statistics from the Federal Criminal Department show that only one in six cases linked to cannabis has to do with the drug trade: there are fewer than 30,000, against 190,000 “offences linked to consumption”. Therefore, instead of trapping the big fish of the trade, the nets of prohibition catch the poor potheads.

Politician Blienert is critical of the demand for immediate decriminalization: “I would like to have the market regulated, which involves decriminalization. I prefer not to separate isolated elements now, but to think everything together. We want a round, homogeneous result.”

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