How the new German government coalition could change drug policy. The debate about legalizing cannabis has picked up speed with a possible red-green-yellow federal government.
Because the SPD, Greens and FDP advocate legalization or at least decriminalization of cannabis. What speaks for it and what against it?
Tax revenue, forecasts, anti-mafia fight
The legalization of cannabis in more and more countries has opened up a whole new market. Based on the gold rush of the 19th century, market observers speak of the so-called green rush. This could also happen in Germany as a result of the formation of a new government.
So far, hemp has hardly been grown in Germany because it can only be used for medical purposes (since 2017). So far, only three companies nationwide have the necessary permits. According to the industry association for the cannabis industry, 6513 kilograms of medicinal hemp were imported to Germany in 2019.
$ 55.9 billion in sales expected
That would change with legalization. The US market research company for cannabis (BDSA) forecasts a global increase in cannabis sales of 55.9 billion dollars by 2026. This corresponds to an annual growth rate of more than 17 percent.
According to the BDSA, sales had already risen from $ 14.4 billion to $ 21.3 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year – an increase of 47.9 percent.
On behalf of the German Hemp Association, the economist Prof. Justus Haucap calculated how much money Germany would earn with legalization. This does not include judicial costs such as court, public prosecutor or prison costs. Haucap comes to around 2.7 billion euros per year, of which 1.5 billion euros alone would be income from cannabis and sales tax.
High demand, insufficient supply?
Some experts believe that the hemp market could be as large as the tobacco or alcohol market in the long run. A clear development cannot be predicted.
When the consumption and cultivation of hemp was legalized in Canada in 2018, production facilities sprouted up and the hopes were for big profits. This created overproduction, which depresses profits. Many remain seated on their product.
With one reason: Growing hemp is not complicated, under good conditions cannabis grows like weeds.
In many countries around the world, not just in Germany, there is a trend reversal when it comes to hemp. This affects, among other things, many South American countries, but also Morocco. It is to be expected that production will skyrocket worldwide. It remains to be seen to what extent demand will then exceed supply. Accordingly, cannabis is also traded with great value.
Smash mafia structures
In Mexico and Morocco they are about to be legalized across the board with permission to cultivate, sell and consume. The states hope to gain control over a market that is currently in the hands of cartels and mafia-like structures. In addition, hemp farmers would have a legal source of income and the authorities would be relieved, so the arguments of the advocates of legalization.
In Uruguay that has already worked in part. The cultivation and sale of cannabis have been organized by the state here since 2013. However, the state cannot keep up with production, so that between 2014 and 2018 only a fifth of the black market could be contained. This is reported by the country’s state drug monitoring agency.
But: Legalization seems to have a positive influence there on young stoners who seem to consume other drugs less because contact with classic dealers has decreased.
How much cannabis is consumed in Germany?
According to data from the 2018 Epidemiological Addiction Survey, over a quarter of Germans between the ages of 18 and 64 have used cannabis at least once in their life. Over seven percent of those surveyed stated that they had already consumed cannabis a year earlier. The trend is increasing. Cannabis consumption has also increased among young adults in recent years: According to the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), almost 50 percent of 18 to 25 year olds had tried cannabis at least once in 2019; among 12 to 17 year olds it was one in ten. 5.7 percent of 18 to 25 year olds consume cannabis regularly.
In total – the German Hemp Association estimates – 200 to 400 tons of cannabis are consumed annually in Germany. That corresponds to a market value of at least 1.2 billion euros – money that is mostly paid for by organized crime.
Instead of criminalizing consumers, this black market could be curbed with legalization, is an argument in favor of a more liberal drug policy. It could also free up resources in law enforcement that could be better directed into the fight against organized crime. Critics, on the other hand, fear that the drug will be played down as well as increasing consumption, harmful consequences and increased cannabis dependence.
What is the legal situation like today?
The Narcotics Act does not prohibit the consumption of cannabis – however, possession, trade and cultivation are punishable by law. Anyone caught with cannabis must first expect a preliminary investigation. For example, the Police Criminal Statistics (PKS) show almost 230,000 crimes across Germany for 2020 for which proceedings were initiated in connection with cannabis.
Larger quantities face a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine. In the case of small quantities, however, since a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1994, courts have been able to dispense with a penalty if the defendant is clearly only covering his own needs. A “small amount” is between six and ten grams, depending on the federal state.
What do the SPD, Greens and FDP want?
The possible traffic light coalition Greens, FDP and SPD agree that the current drug policy must be reformed. Specifically, however, their approaches to legalization differ.
Like alcohol, cannabis is also a social reality that has to be dealt with politically, according to the SPD’s current future program. Bans and criminalization would not have reduced consumption. Instead, such enormous resources would be tied up with the judiciary and the police. In model projects, the party therefore wants to test the regulated distribution of cannabis to adults, accompanied by prevention, counseling and treatment measures in the youth sector. In addition, it is to be regulated nationwide that the possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer criminally prosecuted.
Fiedler (SPD): Enlightenment instead of prosecution for cannabis users
The SPD member of the Bundestag Sebastian Fiedler calls for a more liberal stance in law enforcement in the debate about decriminalizing cannabis use.
The resources that have been used up to now could rather be used in the fight against organized crime.
A controlled distribution of cannabis to adults could also put a stop to the trade in contaminated hashish, said the SPD member of the Bundestag Sebastian Fiedler on Deutschlandfunk. This would free up resources in law enforcement that could be better directed into the fight against organized crime, said the former chairman of the Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter. Instead of prosecuting consumers, you have to take better care of them, and then you become less dependent.
Like the FDP, the Greens, on the other hand, rely on the sale of cannabis products in licensed specialist shops. According to the election manifesto, the Greens want to enable regulated sales there with a “cannabis control law based on strict youth and consumer protection”. Their program provides for clear regulations for participation in road traffic as well as improvements in the medical use of cannabis.
The FDP also wants to allow possession and consumption for adults. Only with a sale in licensed shops can the quality be controlled, the transmission of contaminated substances prevented and the protection of minors guaranteed, according to the party’s election manifesto. Taxing cannabis products could also generate up to a billion euros annually. The money is to be used for prevention, addiction treatment and advice.