Cannabis has not only arrived in everyday culture, but also in politics. This can be read from the coalition agreement of the traffic light parties in the current federal government consisting of the Greens, FDP and SPD. As a political project, it is clearly stated: “We are introducing the controlled sale of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed shops.” But in order to convert these dry words into practical politics, a lot of very thick boards have to be drilled.
With the exception of the Ministry of Defence, practically all federal ministries are involved. Federal drug commissioner Burkhard Blienert told DW that there are areas everywhere that need to be regulated. The Ministry of Health is in charge. The fact that so many bodies are involved makes the legislative process complex. “It’s just not a law from one house, but many points have to be coordinated with each other. The aim is a coherent concept that allows adults to be sold in licensed specialist shops and thus ensures health protection and the protection of minors,” says Blienert.
Four million stoners; Billions in revenue for the state
A concept that could affect many people. Düsseldorf economist Julius Haucamp told DW that there were an estimated four million cannabis users in Germany, most of them occasional smokers. “We tried to estimate what that means in terms of volume. We assume a market volume of around 400 tons, which ranges between four and five billion euros.”
Economics professor Haucap adds up possible income from taxes and social security contributions as well as savings in the police and judiciary in one Opinion from last fall to almost five billion euros per year. Numbers that he also presented at an expert hearing in the Ministry of Health at the beginning of the summer.
In addition to Haucap, around 200 other experts from Germany and abroad came together over five days, representatives of various organizations from the working group of the highest state health authorities (AOLG) to the German Hemp Association and the Customs Criminal Police Office.
Dirk Heitepriem, Vice President of the Cannabis Industry Association (BvCW), was also there. “The most surprising thing for me was that we hardly ever discussed whether, only how,” Heitepriem told DW. He describes the exchange between the interest groups, “who certainly have different interests” as open, collegial and constructive.
The consultation process shouldn’t just create a “good factual basis,” as drug commissioner Blienert says. It should also be a starting signal: “Now it’s actually time for the concrete design.” The further roadmap is just as ambitious as it is open in the end: “The agreement is that the federal government will adopt key points in the autumn and then draft a law on this basis. It will then reach parliament and then the parliamentary deliberations. I assume that that they will be included next year. When the law will be passed and when it will come into force, that is in the hands of the parliament.”
Until then, a multitude of questions must be clarified. Very central: where do the goods come from? Industry representative Heitepriem sees little scope for international trade and imports from traditional growing countries such as Morocco or Lebanon. “The UN conventions stand in our way, as do the European regulations,” says Heitepriem. “We assume that there will have to be national production, at least initially. This requires high investments and, above all, a lead time of one and a half to two years in order to make the necessary production capacities available.”
Sticking point UN conventions
The UN drug conventions also concern Burkhard Blienert. “So far, international agreements have been read in such a way that cannabis is to be strictly prosecuted,” the SPD politician states. And points out that one of the relevant UN conventions dates back to the 1960s. “Those were different times then. But if you want to enter a new era, a modern drug and addiction policy that also does justice to modern health policy, then it is necessary to hold debates and discussions – also about how these agreements are to be understood in the year 2022.”
These debates have already had an impact at the responsible UN drug control agency INCB. The INCB recently clarified: “Measures to decriminalize personal use and possession of small amounts of drugs do not violate the provisions of the UN drug conventions”. At the same time, however, the UN drug inspectors state that the legalization of the entire supply chain, from cultivation through trade to the consumer, goes beyond the scope of the conventions.
Nevertheless: With Uruguay and Canada, two countries have already legalized the cultivation, trade and distribution of cannabis, as well as 21 states in the USA. These rule violations did not have any notable consequences. Economist Haucap diagnoses a strong international movement towards the legalization of cannabis. And because Germany is the most populous country in Europe, its European neighbors are “following with great interest what is happening here. If Germany creates a legal market for cannabis, I think that would send out a very positive signal.”
Cautious movement by the opposition
Before that, however, there is a law that will probably not only have to be approved by the Bundestag, but also by the state representatives, the Bundesrat. You will have to rely on the votes of the federal states in which the CDU is co-governing – the largest opposition party in the Bundestag and hitherto opponent of the legalization of cannabis. However, says Justus Haucap, there is no longer a unified front in the CDU either. “There, too, there are people who consider legalization sensible,” the economist said in private talks with politicians.
The Federal Council could also be asked. Then countries in which the opposition CDU/CSU is co-governing would also have to agree.
This impression is confirmed to DW by the CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel. “I know more and more colleagues in the group who see this in an increasingly differentiated way and say: ‘There is this extensive drug use’. That is why we have to give those who want to consume cannabis for recreational purposes safe access. This will bring the drug problem closer to home grip as if we close our eyes”.
Despite all the signals pointing towards legalization, every three minutes a cannabis user gets caught in the wheels of the police and the judiciary. They must continue to apply the old Narcotics Act. However, it may be years before licensed specialty stores actually have cannabis on their shelves. As a first step, activists are therefore calling for the immediate decriminalization of consumption, as they also give the UN conventions.
The background to this demand is provided by the Federal Criminal Police Office’s most recent situation report on drug crime: When people get into conflict with the law because of cannabis, only one in six cases has to do with trafficking: almost 190,000 cases of so-called “consumption-related offences” in the field of cannabis were just about 30,000 trade offenses. It’s not the big fish that are struggling in the net of Prohibition, it’s the potheads.
Burkhard Blienert is critical of the demand for immediate decriminalization. “I want the regulated market. Decriminalization is part of that,” emphasizes the drug commissioner. “I think it’s better not to break out individual elements now, but to think about everything together. We want a result from a single source.”