While the federal government of Germany does not dare to change cannabis laws, cities like Berlin and Düsseldorf are taking over the lead in reform. We interviewed Georg Wurth, the chairman of the German Cannabis Association about the situation.
Drugreporter: What was your personal motivation for getting involved in the movement for cannabis reform? What is your organisation’s mission?
Georg Wurth: When I tested cannabis in my twenties, I was not prepared to accept suddenly becoming a criminal. But I also found this an extraordinarily interesting
political issue. All reasonable arguments are on the side of regulation, while the other side mainly consists of irrational fears. The mission of the German Cannabis Association (DHV) is the regulation of cannabis as a recreational drug, and the promotion of hemp as a medicine and natural resource.
Drugreporter: How is cannabis regulated now in Germany, at the federal and local level in Germany – are there big differences between the states in their approach?
Georg Wurth: Possession of even the smallest amount of cannabis is forbidden everywhere
in Germany, with certain medical exemptions. There are some differences between the German states, in terms of how these cases are handled and the severity of penalties. The intensity of police persecution varies considerably.
Drugreporter: What are the main problems with current prohibition-based cannabis policies?
Georg Wurth: There are a lot of problems. For consumers, the penalties are sometimes harsh and can lead to loss of job and housing. The rules for driving licences are very harsh. You can lose your licence even if you haven´t driven under the influence. But of course there are also the usual problems prohibition brings everywhere in the world, such as high costs and loss of tax income, or an increase in organised crime.
Drugreporter: There have been some interesting pieces of news about policy initiatives in some German cities, such as Berlin and Düsseldorf. Can you tell us what’s happening in these cities and what those initiatives consist of?
Georg Wurth: There is a paragraph in the German drug law that allows scientific models to experiment with other approaches. That was also the basis for testing heroin maintainance, a decade ago. Now, some cities want to use this to test legal cannabis delivery on a small scale. It´s the same kind of discussion we’re seeing in some cities in Switzerland, or in Copenhagen. National governments everywhere don´t dare to take big steps. Movements tend to originate at a local level, and push the political debate.
Drugreporter: Cannabis policies are changing rapidly in the US. What do you think, how does it affect Europe? Are there any lessons for us to learn from what’s happening over there?
Georg Wurth: Regulation in the United States is having a massive impact on the debate in Germany and Europe. For the first time, we are seeing that regulation does not inevitably lead to disaster. We are able to observe different models of reform, and can see from them, how regulation might work best for society. And we see that such change is achievable, in spite of the international treaties.
Drugreporter: Dr. Armin Claus, a German child psychologist specialising in youth addiction, has voiced concerns that legalisation could reduce young people’s awareness of the dangers involved in taking this drug. Do you think this is a real danger?
Georg Wurth: “Legalisation would send out the wrong message to young people”. That is the latest argument we hear now everywhere from our opponents. No, I don´t see this as a real danger. We don´t punish adult alcohol consumers in order to send out a message to children. Of course, we have to educate our kids to avoid drug problems, but creating a black market is the wrong way to do it.
Drugreporter: Do your opponents accuse your organisation of representing business interests rather than the public interests? If yes, how do you respond to those accusations?
Georg Wurth: This accusation is rare. Yes, we have about 150 company sponsors, but we also have more than 2,000 private members, who contribute the lion’s share of our budget. These private individuals are consumers, their family members, judges, politicians – just all kinds of people who are convinced that legalisation would represent a win for all of us.
Drugreporter: How do you see the future – do you expect real changes in Germany’s cannabis policies in the near future?
Georg Wurth: Well, I´ve been working on this issue for twenty years. I don´t think it will need another twenty, before we see cannabis become completely legal in Germany. Medical marijuana is set to become a more or less standard medicine, next year.
Interview: Peter Sarosi