April 10, 2014
By Carla Bleiker
Over 120 German professors of criminal law are supporting an initiative
to legalize cannabis. They have called on the Bundestag to discuss the
issue. Merkel’s coalition is skeptical.
Around 3 million Germans regularly smoke marijuana. Some 14 million are
estimated to have tried the drug at least once. It’s not punishable by
law in Germany to use pot, but it is to sell and grow it.
Several legal experts believe that criminal prosecution of cannabis
users doesn’t serve the desired purpose. Lorenz Böllinger, emeritus
professor of criminal law at Bremen University, founded the ‘Schildow
Circle’ two years ago. It now consists of 122 criminal law professors
who are campaigning to legalize the sale and ownership of marijuana.
In November 2013, the group called on the lower house of parliament to
set up a cross-party working group to look into Germany’s narcotics laws
and assess the efficacy of current drug policies. Now, two opposition
groups in the Bundestag, the Greens and the Left party, have agreed to
back the idea. Lorenz Böllinger hopes that some Social Democrats could
follow suit. At least 120 parliamentarians are needed for the commission
to be set up. The two opposition groups alone have 127 seats in the
“Marijuana consumers are being criminalized,” Böllinger has criticized,
because they are forced to buy the drug expensively off black market
dealers. They could get involved with the wrong people, said Böllinger.
“It can ruin young people’s lives – and most of those who try weed are
young people – if they are caught and the charge appears on their
criminal record. They may have difficulty getting a job, or could be
stripped off their driving license, etc. In short, it could send them
off the rails.”
Marlene Mortler, Germany’s commissioner on drug-related issues, strongly
rejects the legalization of cannabis, pointing to health risks. “We must
not underestimate the health risks for young people, in particular,”
reads a statement on the commissioner’s website. “Regular cannabis
consumption leads to considerable health damage, and can lead to
psychoses and addiction.”
Many Germans are in favor of cannabis legalization
But Böllinger rejects these arguments. Cannabis, he says, is only
dangerous for people who have an inclination for addiction anyway. And
if the dug were legal, he argues, there would be the option of educating
young people about the risks of marijuana consumption – much like
prevention campaigns about alcohol and cigarette consumption.
Drug dealers are a source of danger
There is another reason why Böllinger and others are campaigning to
decriminalize cannabis: the desire to improve quality controls. Georg
Würth, chairman of the German cannabis association, tells the story of a
drug dealer in Leipzig who had cut his cannabis with lead sulfide. As a
result, more than 100 people were hospitalized. “The problems with
diluents have drastically increased over the last few years,” Würth told
DW in an interview. “Some add sugar and liquid plastic which dries on
The campaigners for legalization argue that it would be much easier to
control the use of dangerous diluents – if cannabis were legal in Germany.
Hubert Wimber is a policeman who supports the idea of legalizing cannabis.
”Hubert Wimber, superintendent with the Münster police, is also in favor
of changing German law. “Criminal prohibition has failed,” Wimber told
DW, adding that the threshold to use cannabis was very low despite the
ban. Too much money was spent on prosecution and too little on
prevention and rehabilitation. Wimber doesn’t believe that legalization
has a chance with the current German government. But he still supports
“Occasionally, Germany can learn lessons from other countries, too,”
said Wimber with a twinkle in his eye. He points to the latest success
stories of cannabis legalization. Last year, Uruguay became the first
country worldwide to legalize the controlled trade as well as the
production of cannabis. And in the US, the states of Colorado and
Washington have allowed citizens to use marijuana on a recreational basis.