Pubdate: Tuesday, 16 June 1998
Source: Die Tageszeitung
Authors: Manfred Kriener and Water Saller
Mail: taz, die tageszeitung., Postfach 610229, 10923 Berlin 
Translation by: Susanne Schardt
Editors note: Our newshawk is the executive director for European Cities on
Drug Policy. Please check out their website at:


Traditional drug policy has failed. I believe we change the trend by
prescribing heroin." This is not a legalise-it-disciple or a member of the
Green party speaking, it is the police chief of the city of Bielefeld,
Horst Kruse. Along with police chiefs and high-ranking medical officials,
even conservative politicians nowadays demand a change in drug policy. A
stock-taking on the occasion of today's German action day on drug policy.

"And it does move, after all. Drug policy in Germany is currently loosening
itself from a concrete and heavy inflexibility that lasted decades. The
ideological walls are not yet broken, but they begin to crumble everywhere.
The confession of faith that drug addicts could be cured with the forces of
police and justice loses more and more of its faithful.

The opening and enlargement of methadone programmes, implementation of
consumer rooms, the medically controlled giving of heroin - it is not the
legalise-it-disciples, not only social democrates and Greens that demand
this, but German police chiefs and CDU mayors, high-ranking medical
functionaries, ministers of Justice, drug policy consultants of the Federal
government, liberal, as well as conservative politicians. Especially with
the Christian democrats a changing of paradigm is evident. A TAZ-poll
revealed surprising sympathies in favour of drug policy reform in Helmut
Kohl's party. Although, with the Federal elections coming up. Many of the
parliamentarians do not wish to be outed as critics of the old strategy of
repression. The chamber of physicians, however, is more offensive in
promoting their new course. "You can always become smarter", Ingo Flenker,
member of the chamber's board argued when asked for his reasons to change
his view about heroin prescription. "We had to realise that the number of
drug deaths has risen to 1,700 in 1996 - about time to think about
enlarging the therapeutic measures." Flenker hopes for a change in view of
Federal Health Minister Seehofer (CDU) in this matter, who is at least
showing some readiness to "discuss" heroin trials - or for a change of
political forces in September: "SPD and Greens have signalled a long time
ago that they would welcome a change in drug policy."

Apart from the rather spectacular change of mind of the chamber of
physicians, the "Deutsche Haupstelle gegen die Suchtgefahren" (DHS) is
drawing considerable attention. The drug policy consultants of the Federal
government now also want to enlarge the spectrum of helping measures and
want to try state programmes of drug prescription and injection under
medical surveillance instead of prison sentences and forced detoxification.
However, DHS speaker Huellinghorst remains careful. He is moving on thin
ice - he sees the necessity of a drug policy reform, but he does not want
to go too far astray from the official policy of the government - after
all, the DHS is financed by Mr Seehofer.

While Seehofer is at least open for discussion, Eduard Lintner (CSU), and
drug coordinator of the federal government is the last to stand stiff in
loyalty towards the old course of abstinence and repression. Although he
definitely knows better, he still defames heroin prescription as a
"legalisation" of hard drugs, that he would never tolerate.

The Federal Health committee is to finally debate about consumer rooms and
heroin prescription trials next week. If the contents of this issue was to
be on the agenda instead of political party tactics and - discipline, the
vote would be clearly in favour of drug policy reform. During their study
visits to Zurich, even members of the CDU/CSU and the FDP party began to
rethink their points of view when confronted with the convincing success of
the Swiss trials. But the decision in Bonn about consumer rooms and "State
heroin" falls into the hot phase of the federal election campaign. A vote
in favour of a heroin trial could hardly be combined with the armchair
populism and fishing for voters at the extreme right end of the scale that
the Christian Union politicians pursue. Will the committee therefore try to
gain time and sneak out of a political decision again?

While election campaigners try to catch votes with law-and-order slogans,
many high-ranking police and justice officials have turned to a more
liberal drug policy. A good dozen of police chiefs from large German cities
urge for a change with increasing force. These men at the front have long
since understood: "Even if we had four times as many police officers, we
would not be able to solve the problem. We would only increase the prices
of street drugs and help the dealers make even higher profits", police
chief Dierk-Henning Schnitzler of the city of Bonn states. The mayors of
several German cities meanwhile take the demands of the police officials
seriously. Frankfurt, Cologne, Karslruhe, and Hannover have applied for
heroin trials following the Swiss model at the Federal government.

Within the framework of a nation-wide action-day, drugs- and aids- helping
services, self-help groups, and parents' organisations in many German
cities will fight for drug policy reform: They all can feel the wind of
change that has been blowing through the republic over the last months.
"This is almost like a breaking of dams", was the interpretation of Richard
Edgeton, the federal secretary of the Germany AIDS-Hilfe regarding the
spirit flowing throughout the nation.

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Checked-by: Richard Lake