Prohibiting cannabis has been a failure. The number of consumers is constantly high, cannabis is available for everyone everywhere. In Germany, over 2.3 million adults are using cannabis. Twenty-two per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 16 are known to have already used the substance.
By prohibiting cannabis, a black market has established itself under the control of organised crime, and its containment is a virtually impossible to task for the authorities. Thus, there is neither effective youth protection nor consumer protection. Dealers are only concerned to maximise their sales, and simply do not care about the buyers’ age. The idea of an ID check in this context is absurd. As consumer demand is solely met through sales on the black market, users will buy contaminated, laced cannabis or cannabis products with concentrations of THC. This makes consumer risks incalculable, but responsible consumers actually do care about the ingredients and quality of the products.
Moreover, the prosecution has no deterrent effect. It is also a disproportionate interference with the freedom of consumers. The consumption of drugs has always been part of human cultures. Nevertheless, the use of drugs should not just be considered as an expression of self-determined life. Rather, a drug-critical perspective is particularly needed where risky consumption or potential addiction is affecting the freedom and self-determination of consumers as a matter of fact. In addition, prosecution wastes the money, time and human resources of the law enforcement authorities. By relieving law enforcement authorities, the state would save about 1.8 billion Euros, which could be invested in drug prevention instead.
The current policy of prohibition provokes social damages – both nationally and internationally. In 2011 The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes many former heads of state and politicians such as Kofi Annan, Javier Solana and others, called for a radical change in global drug policy. The legalisation of cannabis in countries such as Uruguay, Portugal and the Netherlands or some US states has shown no increase in consumption. One hundred and twenty-two renowned German criminal law professors signed a resolution and called for an evaluation of the narcotic law. Nonetheless, the German Government still refuses to change its drug policy. It is time to take a different approach in Germany.
Consumption of cannabis can cause harm, as does consuming every other legal or illegal drug. However, experts rate the health dangers of cannabis far lower than those posed by alcohol consumption.
The health risks of cannabis use depend on the method and frequency of cannabis consumption. There are indications that high-frequency use of cannabis can lead to psychological addiction. Indeed, cannabis consumption in the development stage of children and adolescents may be harmful with long-term effects. Hence, children have to be protected effectively.
Consumers need to be educated to weigh potential risks, and to come to an informed decision. It is indisputable that people with severe drug addictions need help. Still a criminalisation of cannabis does not solve problems, instead it prevents an open approach to drug use, drug addiction and avoids easy access to support and treatment services.
The draft to regulate and control the cannabis market by the German Greens is an alternative to the current repressive drug policy. A regulated and controlled system of growth, trade and sale of cannabis would – as is not the case today – effectively protect consumers, and the youth especially.
According to the draft, adults would be allowed to possess 30g of cannabis or three cannabis plants for their own needs. The limited possession enables a differentiation between the possession for own needs and industrial cultivation, production and trade of cannabis. It is likely that three plants can produce more than 30 g of cannabis. Owners would be allowed to keep it for their own use, but it would be forbidden to sell self-planted cannabis.All stakeholders would have to meet strict personal and organisational requirements, documentation and reporting requirements, as well as high security requirements. The sale of cannabis and cannabis products would be permitted in licensed cannabis stores only. The products would have to meet high quality requirements. Contamination by pesticides as well as additions of alcohol or tobacco would be prohibited. The purity of the substance, as well as the content of active ingredients, especially of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), would be controlled. The sale by mail order, from vending machines or advertising of cannabis would not be approved.
The cannabis stores would have to fulfil strict conditions to guarantee youth protection. ID-checks at the store entrance would assure that children and adolescents do not enter the store. Moreover, the stores would have to maintain a minimum distance from children’s and youth facilities. The delivery of cannabis to minors would be prohibited and strictly punished.
A responsible cannabis use can be supported through information and education. Hence, educating customers about consumption risks and dangers of addiction, as well as information about consulting and treatments, would be obligatory. Therefore, the staff of cannabis shops would need to pass trainings for addiction prevention regularly. Furthermore, all products would be required to have a leaflet with instructions on dosage and effect, possible interactions, precautions, and emergency response plans. Additionally, applied warnings about the protection of minors and dangers of addiction should be printed on all products.
In the Highway Code, a threshold for cannabis while driving motor vehicles will be imported. Similar to alcohol consumers with a concentration of 5.0 ng / ml active THC in blood serum are not allowed to drive. In addition, there are rules that define when consumers have to check their fitness to drive.
The decriminalisation of consumers as well as the regulation of the cannabis market does not mean a release by the motto “Hemp for everybody”, a claim that was framed by early supporters of a comprehensive legalisation. The regulations in the draft are far more stringent even than for the sale of alcohol in Germany.
Evidence suggests a majority of adults would prefer the possibility to buy cannabis legally. Organised crime would be deprived of a major source of income and the black market will be parched. A black market for minors would not be profitable enough. Historical examples of a drug policy reform, such as the legalisation of alcohol in the USA, have shown these developments.
In order to capture consumer trends, consumer protection aspects and impacts on public health, the draft calls for regular evaluations. Every four years, the government would be obliged to submit a report to the German parliament. Hence, negative effects could be detected and counteracted in time.
The German Greens have presented the draft to the parliament in first reading in March 2015. After the debate, it has been referred to the Committee on Health for further consultations. Meanwhile some states and local authorities started initiatives to legalise cannabis. Pilot projects to regulate the cannabis market could be a chance to demonstrate positive effects of a new drug policy. Nevertheless, only a nation-wide law to regulate and control the cannabis market can be a long-term solution.