SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

‘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

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

Why Germany’s supersize Bundestag might become smaller

With 736 MPs, the German Bundestag is one of the world’s largest parliaments - and keeps growing. But the coalition government wants to cap it at under 600 seats so it's not as bloated.

Why Germany's supersize Bundestag might become smaller

What’s happening?

The German Bundestag – the lower house of parliament – currently has 138 seats more than it technically should have.

Several attempts at reform in the past have so far failed to change this significantly. The country’s voting system was brought in following the war and it was seen as a compromise for smaller parties, who were worried they wouldn’t win any seats.

But now Germany’s political landscape has changed; there are no longer just two big parties – the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats – vying for a majority. 

Now politicians from the ruling coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), have come up with a drastic proposal.

In order to significantly reduce the size of the Bundestag, the ‘overhang mandates’ and therefore also the compensatory mandates to achieve the balance of power would be abolished. 

What will this mean for voters?

Reducing the size of parliament could change some considerations about how Germans vote. That’s because Germany’s complicated voting system is what makes the Bundestag so large.

When Germans vote in an election – most recently in September 2021 – they cast two votes. The first vote, or Erststimme, is a vote for the representative in your district and is counted in the same way as a district vote in the US, UK, or Canada would be counted.

Right now, if someone wins the first vote outright, they go into the Bundestag. The second vote, or Zweistimme, is more important, as it’s for a party. Each party is assigned a number of seats proportional to the number of second votes they got.

READ ALSO: ‘My vote counts’: How Germany’s new legion of foreign voters see the election

But what if more members win seats on the first vote than the share of the second vote results entitles them to? When that happens, the Bundestag is allocated additional seats to compensate. These are called the ‘overhang seats’ and they’re part of why the Bundestag has so many members. To make up for this, other parties also get more seats, to ensure that the relative proportion of parties in the Bundestag reflects the election result. 

There is also the question on if taxpayer-money is being spent wisely – each of those extra MPs is also entitled to staff. 

The joint proposal for reform from three MPs, each representing one of the three governing parties, would get rid of these overhang seats. The number of seats a party receives in the Bundestag would then be decided exclusively by the second vote, which would be renamed a ‘list vote’ or ‘Listenstimme‘.

It would mean that Bundestag would always have its intended size of 598 members, which is the aim of the reform. 

How would this work in practice?

According to the proposal, if a party wins more direct mandates in a federal state than it would be entitled to according to the result of the second vote, then the “surplus” direct mandates with the weakest result should be capped.

To ensure that the votes for these candidates are not forfeited, voters should have a “substitute vote” in addition to their first vote. With this, according to the proposal, they can choose the candidate who will be their second choice as constituency representative.

If the mandate of the “overhang candidate” were to be eliminated, these substitute votes would be counted instead and the winning candidate would enter the Bundestag. Unlike today, winning a constituency would no longer guarantee a Bundestag mandate. The reformers therefore want to rename the first vote “personal vote” and the second vote “list vote”.

The joint proposal also envisions reducing the number of constituencies in Germany from 299 to 280.

Is this definitely happening?

No. The proposal would still have to be debated by parliament and could run into resistance from members who rely on direct votes. The opposition Christian Democrats, for example, generally oppose any measures to get rid of overhang seats.

Vocabulary:

German Federal Parliament – (der) Bundestag

Member of German Parliament – Mitgleid des Deutschen Bundestages (MdB) or Bundestagsabgeordneter 

Vote – (die) Stimme

Overhang Seat – (das) Überhangmandat 

SHOW COMMENTS