ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
FOR AN EVIDENCE-BASED DRUG POLICY IN GERMANY
According to a recent representative poll by the German agency of Infratest dimap 42 per cent of those questioned agreed with the statement that cannabis should be made legal and regularly available for adults. Towards the end of the year, the number of the people in favor of legalization has gone up with 12 percent. A small majority of 51 percent of Germans believes that cannabis will be legally available for adults in a few years. This notable increase of people in favor of legalization is the outcome of a political debate on drugs that has gained momentum also in Germany.
Many people and institutions with a professional relation to addiction problems participate in this debate. Despite the many different approaches to this issue all agree that a drug policy which focuses essentially on punishment and penal prosecution is not leading to avoid and reduce harms caused by drug consumption and that it is actually the drug laws themselves that cause direct harm to drug consumers. The goal of this debate is the creation of a source of constructive counter-information to the official declarations issued by a Federal government that is hitherto refusing to take the first step towards a science and systematically evidence-based drug policy which could effectively lead to reduce harm for consumers of illegal drugs.
Exemplary of this current debate is the position paper of the “German Centre for Addiction Issues e. V.” (DHS), which has been unanimously approved by the Board on 09.14.2015. In the DHS, the nationwide network of professional and voluntary associations working in addiction treatment and prevention, 1.400 outreach patient addiction counseling centers and 800 intern addiction treatment facilities have gathered. The position paper notes that a rational addiction policy must be measured against the following objectives to be achieved, both at the individual and at the societal level:
The fewest possible number of people consume drugs; people who don’t consume should be empowered in their decision not to consume drugs.
People who consume drugs, initiate their consumption the latest possible, their consumption patterns and conditions are as less risky as possible.
People whose drug consumption leads to problems, receive help as soon as possible to reduce the risks and harms connected to their consumption.
People who would like to stop their consumption, have unlimited access to counseling, treatment and rehabilitation according to updated scientific standards.
Referring to plenty of scientific researches, statements of professional organizations and changes in international drug policy in the direction of decriminalization the position paper expresses clear doubts if the current dispositions of the German drug laws actually endorse the beforehand mentioned goals of the policy on drugs and especially on cannabis. Consequently the DHS requests that in this legislature, before 2017, an enquiry commission should be installed, that should put under complete scrutiny the actually valid legal bases of the policy on cannabis, including both its intentioned and unintentioned consequences.
Besides the federal government should allow for the limited, controlled and scientifically accompanied implementation of model projects that should investigate the alternatives to the actual praxis of prohibition and try out possible experiments with controlled deliverance. “After so many years of discussions without results we are not anymore interested in positions of faith, opinions and common places about prohibition. We expect clear evidence. As to the advantages of prohibition, not even a single one was presented. Those who are against it become more numerous every year. If we like it or not does not matter. Otherwise drug policy should be considered a question of taste.” (Raphael Gaßmann, General manager of DHS, 2015.)
The recognition that prohibition based drug policy, when measured with its own goals of harm minimization and general prevention, has blatantly failed, is not new. An international group of experts around the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan already came to this conclusion in 2011: The “war on drugs” that has been waged since decades can not be won and consequently a critical review of repressive drug policy is recommendable (Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011). Despite all these findings the drug policy of the German federal government is stuck in its refusal of decriminalization, in its construction of sentences of faith, moralization and common places, without a real recognition of the scientific bases of evidence based drug policy. “Cannabis is no damage free drug, especially for young people in phase of development. I would and I will continue to indicate the dangers of it. For me, it is a question of the health of the people” (Marlene Mortler, Drug Policy Coordinator of the German Federal Government, quoted in ‘Vorwärts’ of 9 October 2015).
Almost at the same time the Federal Government Drug Coordinator informed that the number of youth with regular cannabis experience has grown 0,8 percent to the actual 4,4 per cent, according to a study of the Federal Center of Health Education. Among the 17 – 25 years old the number of those who consume cannabis at least once a month has rocketed from 11,6 up to 17,7 per cent. What she did not mention is the fact that these numbers have been collected under a prohibition based policy.
Despite the punishment of all forms of relation to cannabis and their preparations with the exception of consumption we should consider that at least the occasional consumption of cannabis has reached a high grade of normality and acceptance for most people. Also in Germany, cannabis is the most consumed illegal drug. Life time prevalence of adults (18 – 64 years) is about 23,2 percent. Within the last 12 months 4,5 percent of adults, or more than 2,3 million people, consumed cannabis. Within the last month, about 1,2 million of people (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2015). No reduction in the number of consumers has been registered, in stead a moderate increase is the case.
This means that insisting on drug prohibition should result in a reduction of the demand for drugs through punishment, and so the number of consumers should decrease. But there is no glimpse of empirical evidence for this connection. On the contrary, the annual drug report of the EMCDDA concludes that nowhere in a number of EU countries where purchase and possession of cannabis have been decriminalized, has this led to an increase in drug consumption.
Also concerning harm reduction as a second justification for the punishment of the relationship to illegal drugs there is nothing positive to be said. On the contrary, despite the fact that the use of any psychoactive substance can lead – generally only in a minority of all consumers – to physical and/or psychological dependence and so is connected to health risks, in the scientific debate there is consensus that these harms depend less on the active components of the drugs, but in stead are a direct consequence of a large and completely available illegal market. Due to their inner logic, criminal markets can neither establish youth protection, effective measures for consumer protection, regulations oriented on health criteria concerning production, product quality nor product controls. Regulating this market is impossible.
In any case, within the illegal market the state is globally incapable of protecting its citizens in an effective way in order to reduce the serious problems that may go much beyond the active components. Neither can military or police operations impede that the calculated amount of the annual turnover of organized drug crime has reached 500 billion US$, an incredible amount that besides its corruption of the legal economy is also used to destabilize state structures in many production and transit countries as well as to finance local wars and terrorism.
In these scenery, it is therefore my conviction that also the work of the police in this field of criminality is counterproductive and without success, in spite of a sometimes significant employment of personnel. In Germany in 2014, according to Police Criminal Statistics, a total of 276.734 penal offenses concerned drug criminality. This represents a percentage of 4,55 of all offenses that were investigated by the police and it is the highest number of the last 10 years. This increase is based exclusively on the increase of so-called consumption related offenses like possession and purchase for personal use, that, with 209.514 cases, represents about 75 percent of all cases of drug criminality (Federal Criminal Office,Criminal Police Statistics 2014). In contrast, the percentage of offenses involving trafficking and smuggling of large quantities, i.e. the offenses that relate to the supply side of the criminal markets, in the same time lap has gone back with two ciphers. In reality, the work of the police, despite the constantly repeated goal of the fight against organized drug crime, for the most part is about procedures of penal prosecution against consumers who do not have victims and harm nobody, besides maybe in some cases themselves which in our legal order is not punishable.
This contradiction between the goals and the reality of police prosecution, that at least partly is oriented to maintaining the principle of legality anchored in the German penal law, which means that the police and in a minor extent also the state attorneys must proceed upon any initial suspicion of any offense, also leads to the fact that consumers could loose their driving license and experience difficulties in their educational process or at their working place, which consequently makes an equal participation to social life impossible. Consequently the question can be raised if according to the current state of knowledge the legal dispositions are still conform to the Constitution. In March 2015, 122 and therewith the majority of all penal law professors in Germany composed a resolution to the Bundestag in which they express important doubts on this issue. In a democratic state of law not any undesirable behavior can become the subject of punishment. The penal law being the hardest response of the state to human behavior corresponds to the Constitution only when it is applied as a proper and necessary instrument to accomplish its goals and even to accomplish these conditions does not conflict with the principle of individual freedom. Already the few remarks made previously clearly indicate the fact that penal norms are to be considered improper and accordingly inadequate and unconstitutional.
Besides the useless employment of well trained staff in the massive prosecution of consumers and small dealers, the police as an organization should also have a justified interest in changing a legal situation that seems to be in conflict with the Constitution.
By Hubert Wimber, former police commissioner of the city of Münster, Germany
NEWS FROM THE SECRETARIAT
This month we launch an special appeal to all our members and supporters who can make a donation to the Peace Brigade that we hope to send off to UNGASS in New York, in april 2016. In order to avoid that UNGASS will become another lost opportunity, we need to guarantee the presence of grass-root movements.
If you cannot support with money, you can also participate by sending the Encod letter asking parliamentarians to organize a true debate on drug policies in your country.
We will also participate in the debate Cannabis – Par delà de l’interdit in Brussels on 10 December.
Please contact us for more information.