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German Marijuana: Why Politicians Aren’t Ready to Light up Yet?

 5 min read / 

Politics and public policy often go, or seem to go, in waves. At first, it seemed there was a conservative outsider wave sweeping across the West, as indicated by voters electing President Donald J. Trump in the US and Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK, followed by a vote to leave the European Union. That wave was called into question when May’s call for snap election weakened rather than strengthened her position, and Emmanuel Macron – an outsider but no conservative – won the election in France.

Joint Action

Conservatives in general also oppose decriminalisation of drugs such as cannabis, but there has been a growing movement for the legalisation of medical marijuana across the US – 30 of 50 states now permit it; several US states approved medical and recreational cannabis at the same time that Trump was elected. The story is similar, although less extreme, in Europe. Austria, Britain, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are among the many nations that now permit some sort of legal cannabis, and/or have decriminalised small amounts for use.

Now all eyes are on Germany. At first, it was thought that center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate Martin Schulz might defeat sitting Chancellor Angela Merkel of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – a conservative, but definitely an insider. Early state election results suggest the CDU has little to fear however, maybe because Merkel has taken issues such as cannabis off of the table preemptively.

Schulz on Cannabis

Neither major candidate seems to have a whole lot to say on the subject of marijuana – let alone fighting drug addiction – but legalisation is very popular with the general public.

Former German parliament president Schulz said in a March online interview with Zeit that he had come to no policy decision on legalising cannabis overall, though he said it was “definitely useful in medicine.” Burkhard Blienert, an SPD ‘drug-spokesman’, was more enthusiastic, saying that gradually legalising cannabis – after further testing and model projects – should be in the party’s election program, in part to weaken the black market.

Merkel on Cannabis

For her part, Merkel in 2011 rejected legalisation of cannabis in 2011, claiming that the consumption of small quantities had a heavy risk of dependency and other dangerous side effects – neither claim is likely to be true based on the best evidence – but has been silent on the subject recently.

Maybe that’s because the Bundestag greatly expanded access to legal medicinal cannabis on January 19, 2017. (The law went into effect in March.) Now patients with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, serious appetite loss or nausea from chemotherapy are eligible. CDU lawmaker Rainer Hayek said, “Today is a beautiful day,” perhaps because the five-year trial program removes cannabis as a campaign issue.

Getting into the Cannabis Business

Small amounts of marijuana have long been tolerated, but the new law will lower the cost. Before the German parliament expanded its legality, the cost for an ounce of medical cannabis was $2,000, now it is $12 per ounce.

The law also will allow large-scale domestic production. For the time being, Germany will be receiving much of its legally prescribed cannabis from The Netherlands and Canada, but Ontario-based Maricann, is already setting up production facilities in Germany. (Maricann foresaw the inevitability of German cannabis legalisation three years ago and began preparing for it.) No additional capital was needed due to the low price of the property and other government incentives.

More than a thousand patients have already registered for the program, which allows as much as five ounces per month for patients covered by public health insurance (about 90%). It is anticipated that an additional 5,000 to 10,000 will sign up each year.

Resistance to Legalisation

That’s if they can find a doctor willing to prescribe it. Despite the will of German citizens, authorities seem to prefer prevention through abstinence rather than fighting drug addiction after the fact (alcohol and tobacco excepted). Cannabis-related arrests accounted for more than 60% of all drug-related offences, rising from 132,745 to 145,915 (not including trafficking, smuggling, or possession of large quantities).

This lag between the people and medical/law enforcement professionals is puzzling because there has never been a reported death from overdosing on cannabis.

Dangerous Drugs

Far more dangerous and addictive are opioids, including heroin and prescription pills. In 2015, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCCDA) reported 8,441 overdose deaths in Europe, with 15% in Germany (the second highest percentage; Britain was first with 31%). Germany’s increase over 2014 figures was 9%, higher than Europe’s overall increase of 6%.

In addition to treating other medical conditions, cannabis may also replace opioids in some treatments, such as chronic pain, and help in fighting drug addiction to heroin or opioid prescription pills.

The CDU support for marijuana legalisation may be a cynical ploy. Merkel also recently allowed a vote on same-sex marriage, which was expected to pass, after the SDP made it a red line for any future coalition government. If that’s the case, and the Christian Democrats remain in power, expect a future fight over the continued use of medical marijuana. For this election, it seems to be a non-issue.

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