Legalisation of Cannabis: Freedom of Choice vs State Duty to Protect

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Legalisation of Cannabis: Freedom of Choice vs State Duty to Protect

Despite countless arrests and constant police patrols, it seems that illegal cannabis dealing has not subsided in Germany. To combat the growing social problem of cannabis dealing, should the German state act as the dealer? 

Should Germany legalise cannabis?

The Hansaplatz in Hamburg, the Ebertplatz in Cologne, the Görlitzer Park in Berlin-Kreuzberg. What these areas have in common is that they are “weed parks”: areas notoriously popular for cannabis deals in Germany. 

There is no exact figure on how much cannabis is consumed in Germany. Researchers of the German Hemp Association estimate that the annual consumption could be up to 400 tons. 

According to a 2018 Epidemiological Survey on Addiction, 7.1% of 18 to 64-year-olds said they smoked cannabis in the past 12 months. A conservative estimate is that cannabis is served to 5.88 million consumers a year. 

From an economist’s point of view, it’s hard to deny that Germany is a prime market. If the German state legalises cannabis, the state could possibly rid itself of its crime problems and earn €2.66 billion in tax money at the same time. 

Should Germany lawfully monetise cannabis?

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s Annual Report, a gram of hash costs €8.90 and €10.20 for a gram of weed. The Federal Criminal Police Office said Germans consume about twice as much marijuana as hashish. For every 400 tons of cannabis, one third is hashish and two-thirds weed. 

The total amounts to more than €3.87 billion annually. This is the same as the annual revenues of the video gaming industry in Germany. 

In 2018, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office estimated a total of €2.17 billion was spent on the prosecution of drug-related offences. A further €1.2 billion for conviction and €849.5 million for imprisonment. The staggering amount is responsible for 61% of cannabis “consumer offences” in the Federal Republic. A quick addition shows that Germany spends at least € 23.83 billion spent annually to arrest the growth of cannabis use. 

That amount could finance 21,000 teacher salaries in Berlin, purchase 4,150 new high-tech fire trucks, or build 5,000 homeless shelters.

What will the legalisation of cannabis achieve?

German Police officer Eike Bleibtreu said in an interview with the Kriminologist, the specialist journal of the Federal Police Office(Freigabe von Drogen: Pro und Contra’), that legalising cannabis has no impact on the illegal drug market. 

“This would be the state’s surrender to organised crime,” he said. “Consumers are first victims- who become perpetrators (dealers) by seeking new victims.” 

In terms of policy, Germany has a long way to go. For drug commissioner Marlene Mortler, it’s a hard no. “Drug policies keep dimensions of abuse in check,” she said. 

For context, Germany’s alcoholics still outweigh illegal drug users in 2018. Data from the German Council Against Addictions estimated at least 300,000 illegal drug users versus 1.7 million alcoholics in 2018. 

Mortler said the threat of punishment acts as a deterrent on people. “Drug abuse would be even more outrageous,” she said. 

Especially for career criminals, the threats of punishment may have a deterrent effect on the market.

European neighbours as case studies in the legalisation of cannabis

Following the Dutch example, governments should be wary of liberal drug policies. “We thought we would set an example for the world and we were very satisfied with it for a long time – but not anymore,” said Pieter Tops, a social scientist at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Tops believes that the legalisation of drug use in the Netherlands was a fundamental mistake with serious consequences. The government and society have a tolerant attitude towards drugs and their use. This leads to a lack of what Tops calls “strong law enforcement agencies to fight illegality.” 

The Netherlands saw the production of illegal, synthetic drugs rise to new heights. This is partly due to the country’s tolerance of drugs and the impunity of drug trafficking.

In an interview with Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Henrik Tham, professor of criminology at the University of Stockholm, said Swedish drug policy has always been guided by the policy of creating a drug-free society.

“When it comes to the number of deaths due to overdose, the EMCDDA statistics shows that Sweden is significantly lagging behind other European countries. In fact, the deaths per million of the population in 2015 peaked at around 100, reaching over 80 in 2016, which is four to five times the EU average,” he said. 

The assumption is that through education and deterrence, consumers will stay away from drugs. This would break down the entire supply chain and solve the problem on its own. In the fight against drugs, it deliberately targets consumers as the weakest link in the chain. “This did not happen,” he said, “Sweden’s drug policy wasn’t successful.” 

Neither laissez-faire policy or former zero-tolerance policy work effectively against this growing public health concern. 

The changing definition of personal freedom

Ongoing debates around euthanasia, reproductive medicine and organ donations show the state’s hegemony over personal freedom. As early as the 1970s, abortion raised questions on how much control the state have over an individual’s body. 

Now the question is raised again. Especially when it comes to collecting biometric data – or even cannabis consumption. So how far does the state’s power reach? Should they get to decide on matters of its citizen’s bodies?

If the German state is to be believed, cannabis legislation centres on “the protection of society makes it necessary to criminalise the illicit use of narcotics.” A drug-free world might be the illusion though.