Sunday, December 5

Beer mug bongs? Why Germany Could Take Steps to Legalize Cannabis

When you think of Germany, large beer mugs are probably among the most synonymous images of the country.

Rightly so: Germans are one of the most enthusiastic beer consumers in the EU; only Austrians and Czechs drink more per capita.

But now another vice threatens to compete for the attention of partying Germans: cannabis.

The country’s likely new government, after historic elections in September, is considering legalizing the drug.

The cannabis coalition?

The left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) have been locked in intense coalition negotiations in recent weeks.

Although not yet guaranteed, all signs point to the three parties forming a government, replacing the outgoing “Grand Coalition” of the SPD and the center-right CDU.

While many policy specifics need to be nuanced, the general scheme of political change under the likely coalition has been largely outlined.

One area that is sure to change is Germany’s drug policy.

It has created such a stir that Georg Wurth, president of the German Hemp Association, has spent the weeks after the election receiving almost constant phone calls.

“Everybody is excited that it could really happen,” Wurth told Euronews. “Germany could become the third nation in the world to fully legalize cannabis.”

According to Wurth, decriminalization, which removes criminal penalties for use, generally precedes full legalization and is the most likely outcome, although the parties are still negotiating.

“In the last 20 years or so, it was assumed that decriminalization would come first, then legalization would be the next step. We’ll see if we really do it all at once, ”he said.

All three parties campaigned for the reform of cannabis laws, calling for regulation of the sale and consumption of the drug and ending Germany’s criminal prohibition. Current coalition talks, with heavy pressure mounted by the youth wings of all three parties, will determine whether the reform becomes decriminalization or full legalization.

Germany’s current drug laws could go up in smoke

Cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug in Germany.

According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), 19.5% of young adults aged 15-24 used marijuana at least once in 2019, a slight increase from previous years.

Germans are not alone in their consumption. The EMCDDA estimates that more than 27% of Europeans have tried cannabis at least once.

Germany is also in line with much of the rest of the continent when it comes to cannabis policy – marijuana is only legal for medical use.

Meanwhile, recreational cannabis is illegal. Possession is punishable by a fine or, in extremely rare cases, up to five years in prison. A large number of possession cases are ruled out when they revolve around “a small amount” of cannabis, a distinction that can range from 6 to 15 grams depending on the state.

Still, according to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, cannabis accounted for 77% of registered drug crimes in 2020. The vast majority of these crimes are concentrated in drug users, not in sellers or producers.

Oliver Malchow, director of the German Police Union (GdP), considers that the current state of criminalization of cannabis is an important preventive measure.

“Criminal law has a preventive effect. When we make something illegal, it reflects our values ​​… Just because people do it anyway doesn’t mean we should end the ban, ”he told Euronews.

Although it is debatable that the prohibition of cannabis use reflects the values ​​of the nation, it has not succeeded in stopping its use. And these values ​​appear to be changing, given the commitment of most political parties to reform.

Cannabis legalization is not intended to be a panacea

Proponents of legalization argue that enforcing the illegal status of cannabis means funneling a large amount of public funds towards surveillance, while ensuring that much of the money spent by Germany’s millions of consumers lands on criminal organizations.

“We put incredible effort into enforcing this ban, to no avail. Usage has only increased and is costing us millions, ”Wurth said.

Decriminalizing cannabis use would dramatically reduce spending to control use, something that Wurth said would be a boon to taxpayers. If Germany takes the route of legalization, which would likely involve the regulated sale of cannabis in specialty shops, significant tax revenues could also be on the horizon. Canada raised 186 million Canadian dollars (130 million euros) in the six months after legalizing marijuana in 2019.

While buying and using cannabis would remain illegal for children if Germany legalized or decriminalized it, opponents remain concerned about the message it would send.

“We believe that the discussion, at least the way it has been conducted, trivializes [marijuana consumption]. And decriminalization or legalization would really lower inhibitions for young people to consume, ”Malchow said.

But for supporters like Wurth, legalization was never intended to be a panacea.

“We would never say that there are no risks related to cannabis use. Some people really struggle with it. That will not change with legalization. Legalizing cannabis can solve all the problems created by prohibition, but it cannot solve all the problems with cannabis itself, ”he said.

The German Hemp Association has called for a more open discussion on the pros and cons of cannabis use, while arguing that funds that had been spent monitoring the sale and use of the drug can now be directed towards prevention, education and counseling.

Greenlighting cannabis

Weeks of ongoing negotiations will determine whether Germany will follow Canada and Uruguay in fully legalizing the purchase, sale, and use of marijuana. Wurth estimates that it is more likely that if the SPD, the Greens and the FDP form a coalition, they will follow the more common decriminalization route, mirroring countries like Portugal or the Netherlands.

“It is very difficult to imagine that we jump directly to legalization. But the signs of the coalition talks are there and they have committed to modernization. This would be a perfect fit and make us pioneers in the global context, ”said Wurth.

Regardless of the precise details of the implementation, Germany appears poised to experience major changes in its cannabis culture.

Still, it’s likely going to be quite a while for beer to be taken down as the nation’s favorite social lubricant and stress reducer.

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