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‘Controlled distribution’: How Germany will legalise recreational cannabis

Amsterdam may soon have a rival as the European capital of cannabis, with Germany's next government planning to legalise recreational use of the drug.

a national flag bearing a marijuana leaf
A picture taken on August 10, 2019 in Berlin shows a national flag bearing a marijuana leaf during the 23rd Hanfparade, a traditional German-wide pro-Cannabis march, to ask for its legalisation. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

The centre-left SPD, Greens and liberal FDP, which presented their plans for Germany’s next ruling coalition on Wednesday, have agreed to ease rules on personal use of cannabis.

“We will introduce the controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores,” the parties said in their coalition contract.

“This will control the quality, prevent the circulation of contaminated substances and ensure the protection of minors,” the document says.

Current German law allows cannabis plants to be grown, sold, owned, imported or exported, and people with certain medical conditions can be prescribed cannabis-based drugs.

Private recreational use of the drug is banned — though police often turn a blind eye to possession of small amounts.

The Greens and FDP have long been pushing to legalise cannabis, while the SPD has proposed testing regulated distribution of the drug in pilot projects.

‘Positive effects’

It is not yet clear whether cannabis in Germany would be sold in tobacco shops, Amsterdam-style “coffee shops” or pharmacies, but the aim is to make it easier to control who can buy it — and what they are getting.

According to the German Cannabis Association, substances that can end up in black-market weed include sand, hairspray, talcum powder, spices or even glass and lead.

Experts also say marijuana can be contaminated with heroin or synthetic cannabinoids, up to 100 times stronger than natural psychoactive cannabinoids.

Legalising the drug could generate around 4.7 billion euros ($5.3 billion) a year in public finances, according to a recent study by the Heinrich-Heine University in Duesseldorf.

The study also predicts that legalising cannabis would create around 27,000 jobs.

The prohibition of cannabis costs the taxpayer billions every year in “senseless prosecutions”, according to Georg Wurth, director of the German Cannabis Association.

Wurth also asserted that the ban “promotes organised crime by giving it exclusive access to a market worth billions.”

He argued that legalisation would “have multiple positive effects for users, but also for society as a whole.”

Health risks?

At the Mary Jane Berlin cannabis expo in October, visitor Linda Moedebeck told AFP she was in favour of legalisation because it would help control the quality of the drug.

“With illegally bought substances, you never really know what’s inside and I just find that very dangerous,” she said.

“Everybody smokes who wants to smoke anyway, so I don’t think consumption would go up as a result,” said another visitor, Sven Baum.

Wurth had the same opinion, saying legalisation is unlikely to worsen health problems associated with the drug. “Since a significant increase in consumption is not to be expected, (an) increase in the various problems caused by consumption is not to be expected either,” he said.

But not everyone is in favour of the plan, with Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative alliance warning that regular use of the drug can pose health risks for some people.

Stephan Pilsinger, the CDU’s pointman on drug policy, accused the coalition parties of performing an “experiment on the health of our society and our young people”.

“Should the state really earn money by plunging its citizens into the danger of addiction, permanent psychoses and physical and mental suffering? I think that is immoral,” he told AFP.

Some experts have warned that cannabis use among young people can affect the development of the central nervous system, leading to an increased risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia.

Sustained use has also been linked to respiratory diseases and testicular cancer.

Daniela Ludwig, drugs commissioner for the outgoing government, has accused the coalition parties of risking “the health of the population for the sake of a supposed Zeitgeist”.

The legalisation of cannabis would “trivialise the dangerous nature of this drug”, she told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

Member comments

  1. “Should the state really earn money by plunging its citizens into the danger of addiction, permanent psychoses and physical and mental suffering? I think that is immoral,” he told AFP.

    You mean like… alcohol and tobacco products? Oh dear

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TRAVEL NEWS

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

Germany's cut-price transport ticket is supposed to go on sale next Monday - but a battle over financing is threatening to torpedo the government's plans.

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

An feud between the federal and state governments intensified on Monday as state leaders threatened to block the government’s most recent energy package when it is put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Friday. 

The battle relates to the government’s plans for a budget transport ticket that would allow people to travel on local and regional transport around Germany for just €9 per month.

Though the 16 states have agreed to support the ticket, transport ministers are arguing that the low-cost option will blow a hole in their budgets and lead to potential price hikes once autumn rolls around.

They claim that current funding promised by the Federal Transport Ministry doesn’t go far enough.

READ ALSO: 

“If the federal government believes it can be applauded on the backs of the states for a three-month consolation prize and that others should foot the bill, then it has made a huge mistake,” Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) told Bild on Monday.

The government has pledged €2.5 billion to the states to pay for the measure, as well as financial support for income lost during the Covid crisis. 

Transport Minister Volker Wissing. of the Free Democrats (FDP), said states would also receive the revenue of the €9 ticket from customers who take advantage of the offer. 

“For this ‘9 for 90 ticket’, the €2.5 billion is a complete assumption of the costs by the federal government,” said Wissing on Thursday. “In addition, the states are also allowed to keep the €9 from the ticket price, so they are very well funded here.”

Transport Minister Volker Wissing

Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) speaks ahead of a G7 summit in Düsseldorf.

However, federal states want a further €1.5 billion in order to increase staff, deal with extra fuel costs and to plan for the expansion of local transport in Germany.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Reinhard Meyer (SPD), told Bild that there would be “no approval (on Friday) as long as the federal government does not provide additional funds.”

Baden-Württemberg’s Transport Minister Winfried Hermann (Greens) also warned that “the entire package of fuel rebate and €9 euro ticket could fail in the Bundesrat” if the government doesn’t agree to the state’s demands on funding.

The Bundesrat is Germany’s upper house of parliament, which is comprised of MPs serving in the state governments. Unlike in the Bundestag, where the traffic-light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has a majority, the CDU is the largest party in the Bundesrat. 

What is the €9 ticket?

The €9 monthly ticket was announced early this year as part of a package of energy relief measures for struggling households.

With the price of fuel rising dramatically amid supply bottlenecks and the war in Ukraine, the traffic-light coalition is hoping to encourage people to switch to public transport over summer instead. 

The ticket will run for three months from the start of June to the end of August, and will allow people to travel nationwide on local and regional transport. Long-distance trains like IC, EC and ICE trains will not be covered by the ticket. 

It should be available to purchase from May 23rd, primarily via ticket offices and the DB app and website. 

Some regional operators, including Berlin-Brandenburg’s VBB, have also pledged to offer the ticket at ticket machines.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get hold of the €9 travel ticket in Berlin

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