How drug dealers in Germany are adapting to new corona reality

The chief of the German bureau of investigation (BKA) said drug dealers had learned new ways to sell their wares, stating that “we haven't noticed a shortage on the market".

How drug dealers in Germany are adapting to new corona reality
Drug dealers adapted to the coronavirus crisis. Photo: DPA

Many industries have been hit hard in the coronavirus crisis. But it appears drug dealers adapted quickly during the lockdown, even while doing home office.

Move to online and delivery

Presenting his agency's annual report on drug criminality on Tuesday, BKA boss Holger Münch said that dealers had quickly adapted to the coronavirus by offering more service online.

Narcotics purchased via the internet and delivered by post – often to a packet shop – had increased during the pandemic.

Smuggling by air and sea continued at a constant level throughout the crisis in comparison with recent years, he said.

SEE ALSO: 10 things you should know about illegal drug use in Germany

'Cocaine not elite drug anymore'

Münch made the comments during the presentation of the annual drug report, which showed an increase in drug criminality for the ninth year in a row last year.

Criminality in connection with cocaine rose most sharply, increasing by 12 percent. “We've come to the conclusion that this isn’t an elite drug anymore,'' said Münch.

The largest quantity of cocaine ever seized in Germany was discovered by customs in July 2019 during a routine check in the port of Hamburg.

A container of soybeans, which was to be transported from Uruguay via Hamburg to Belgium, contained 4.5 tonnes of cocaine. The estimated street value was almost one billion euros.

Drug use increasing

Meanwhile, 31 illegal drug labs were busted nationwide in 2019, a 63 percent increase on 2018.

In total, the number of drug offences registered in 2019 rose by 2.6 percent compared to the previous year to 359,747. By far the most offences were related to cannabis. 

“Instead of wasting resources on prosecuting users, the federal and state governments should take targeted action against organized drug crime and the black market,” said FDP drug policy expert Wieland Schinnenburg. 

Schinnenburg proposed starting the controlled distribution of cannabis to adults, which would free up police resources to go after more serious crimes.

Münch said that he was not against conducting a debate on liberalization. But he cautioned that he had not seen evidence to suggest either that legalization leads to lower consumption or that it weakens the power of organized crime networks.

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Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.