Pubdate: Wed, 27 May 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Angela Waters


BERLIN - A conservative politician who crossed the aisle and has 
joined the German Green Party's campaign to legalize marijuana has 
revived a long-running debate about the drug in Europe's largest economy.

Lawmaker Joachim Pfeiffer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's 
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the Bundestag, the lower house of 
parliament, recently co-sponsored legislation that would lift 
Germany's ban on marijuana and regulate the drug like alcohol and 
tobacco - and, supporters say, bring in billions more marks in tax revenue.

"The current restrictive drug policy failed because, despite the ban, 
the number of consumers hasn't dropped," said Mr. Pfeiffer, who filed 
his bill with opposition Green Party lawmakers last week. "More than 
two million Germans use weed regularly, making it the most commonly 
used illicit drug."

Mr. Pfeiffer's move sent ripples of joy through the budding marijuana 
industry in Germany, offering a rare crack in the conservative unity 
that has resisted all past efforts at legalization.

"The Christian Democratic Union has been a cement wall in the way of 
legislation," said Georg Wurth, head of the German Hemp Association, 
a prolegalization group in Berlin. "But for the first time we have a 
CDU politician publicly speaking out for legalization, which is a big 
step forward. You can assume there are others with similar opinions 
in the CDU."

Currently, Germany has partial decriminalization of marijuana that 
varies from state to state, with some states maintaining strict 
prohibitions and others, including liberal Berlin, allowing people to 
carry as much as 15 grams of pot without prosecution.

Opinions remain polarized. Organizers in Berlin are gearing up for 
the 19th Hanfparade - Hemp Parade - to be held August 8. The parade, 
expected to draw some 6,500 participants from all over the country, 
is Europe's largest annual demonstration in favor of legalizing marijuana.

But a poll last year by Stern magazine uncovered a deep reservoir of 
popular suspicion about easing the country's pot laws, with 65 
percent of Germans polls saying the opposed easing laws restricting 
the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. Fewer than a third 
- - 29 percent - favored legalization, while even in the Green Party 
only 51 percent said they favored full legalization.

Mr. Pfeiffer's arguments supporting a regulated marijuana industry in 
Germany resemble those of advocates in the United States: Legalized 
pot would undercut organized crime, raise awareness of the negative 
health effects of smoking, curb law enforcement costs and, perhaps 
most importantly, generate as much as $2.23 billion annually in tax 
revenues, he said.

Still, despite Mr. Pfeiffer touting the benefits of legal marijuana 
to his CDU colleagues, Mr. Wurth wasn't expecting Ms. Merkel to allow 
the legislation to pass. "It will be a long time before the party has 
a majority in favor of legalization," he said.

Even so, opposition to marijuana legalization is thawing fast among 
other German parties.

The pro-business German Free Democratic Party, which was part of Ms. 
Merkel's coalition government until 2013, added the regulated 
distribution of cannabis to the party's platform this month.

For Steffen Geyer of Berlin's Hemp Museum, it is high time that weed 
becomes legal in Germany.

"Marijuana should be governed by the same rules as tobacco and wine," 
Mr. Geyer said. "The prohibition of cannabis is wrong. It hurts 
people, it hurts the economy and it empowers organized crime."

The growing support for legalization has sparked a backlash, however.

Germany's federal Drug Commissioner Marlene Mortler recently told the 
daily newspaper Passauer Neue Presse that the country didn't need 
more legal drugs on offer because Germans had enough problems with 
alcohol and tobacco.

Her comments came a few days after the Organization for Economic 
Cooperation and Development warned Germans to cut down on alcohol 
consumption, citing heavy costs on the health of individuals and society.

Munich resident Laura, who asked her last name be withheld, approves 
of cannabis use for medical purposes, but has reservations about 
legalization for recreational purposes.

"I know a few people who have developed psychiatric problems like 
psychosis and schizophrenia from weed," Laura said, echoing concerns 
aired by marijuana researchers. "Legalization would mainly profit 
those who make a business out of it and not users."

Even in Berlin's most infamous open-air pot market of Gorlitzer Park 
- - an old railway terminus that's popular among skateboarders, 
graffiti artists and others - some passers-by said they would rather 
keep the marijuana business under the table.

Malick, a Senegalese immigrant who has spent over a decade dealing 
weed in the park, said legalization would put him out of a job.

"You've got to legalize it in your mind, not on the books," said 
Malick, who declined to give his last name out of fear of being 
targeted by police. "This isn't my dream job. But I sell weed when I 
need money and see customers."

"I don't want them to legalize it because then the government will be 
able to say who can have it and who can't," he added. "People like me 
aren't going to be the ones running the coffee shops" like those in 
the Netherlands that sell legal marijuana.

According to cannabis legalization expert Tom Blickman of the 
Transnational Institute, a Dutch think tank, Germany isn't the only 
European country considering a more relaxed stance on marijuana. As 
in the U.S., a patchwork of different - often conflicting - laws on 
marijuana now blanket the continent.

"What you see generally in Europe is a move towards decriminalization 
of personal possession in certain qualities," Mr. Blickman said.

He added that even the Netherlands, with one of Europe's most liberal 
marijuana policies, is moving toward more regulation to exert a 
measure of legal control over the chains that supply the coffee houses.

"In the Netherlands, everything is prohibited except for 
consumption," Mr. Blickman said. "Coffee shops are not prosecuted if 
they abide by certain rules, but the law still says that it is 
illegal to sell weed."

While Mr. Blickman is unsure Mr. Pfeiffer's bill will pass in 
Germany, he thinks that it is the first step toward full-fledged legalization.

"I think that will happen within the next 10 years, depending on the 
political dynamics," Mr. Blickman said. "But with the example of the 
United States and Uruguay, where they have basically legalized the 
cannabis market, not only Germany but more countries in Europe, will 
move toward a regulated cannabis market."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom