For Karl Lauterbach, the idea that recreational cannabis was legal was something that he couldn’t understand until recently. But he’s changed his mind and, as he has told German regional media, he’s done so because of his experience as a doctor. Lauterbach, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the name that sounds most likely to take up the health portfolio in Germany if the negotiations that are taking place between the SPD, the liberals (FDP) and the Greens at present to form a government in this country come to fruition.
Recreational cannabis — a common point for debate
According to Reuters, after a month of meetings that could culminate before this coming Christmas, there are several dissonant points between the three parties, including the country's debt capacity; nevertheless, there are also points in common, and their position regarding cannabis is among the latter. The legalisation of recreational cannabis was presented as one of the demands by the Greens (having already presented a bill on cannabis for distribution in specialised stores that was rejected by Parliament in October 2020) and by the liberals at the negotiating table, and the recent change of position expressed by Lauterbach adds to the SPD in this way.
The keys to legalising cannabis
Among the arguments put forward by the possible next German Health Minister for his change of heart is the poor quality of cannabis, or the impurities in it (among them heroin) that can be found on the black market.
"Cannabis users quickly become addicted to heroin," says Lauterbach. "For years I have refused to legalise cannabis, but I have come to another conclusion as a doctor," adds the politician.
From their possible government partners, in addition to the fight against the black market, they also point out the tax revenues that the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes could provide for the country.
"If it were officially sold, the state would also collect taxes that could be very well spent on prevention and therapy," said Wieland Schinnenburg, a drug policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, in an interview with Deutsche Welle in June.
Even among the voters of the Greens, there isn’t there a majority acceptance of the total legalisation of cannabis
The position of the possible government coalition with respect to marijuana differs greatly from that held by the still conservative German government, which expressed its opposition to the legalisation of recreational cannabis in mid-October in response to the statements of the possible future Minister of Health. It’s also against the latest poll on the total legalisation of cannabis, conducted in Germany by the Forsa demographic institute, in which a majority of people voted "No". Published in September, the study found 59% of respondents only accepted the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, 7% supported total prohibition of the plant, and 30% defended total legalisation of cannabis. According to this study, there isn’t even a majority acceptance of the full legalisation of cannabis among voters of the Greens, with 48% of those surveyed in favour.
Currently, German laws punish the possession of marijuana with up to five years if it is not for medicinal use; however, custodial sentences are usually commuted to addiction treatment workshops if amounts are small.
With regard to medical marijuana, Germany was one of the first countries to authorise and regulate it: this was in 2017, with the German Parliament voting unanimously in favour of facilitating access to this plant for people with serious diseases. The approved law then left the cultivation, processing and distribution of this plant in the hands of the State, although recently — as published by Kannabia - the country opened its doors to medicinal cannabis grown in Spain.
According to the data used by the FDP party, there are currently four million habitual cannabis users in Germany. In the case of medicinal cannabis, back in May 2020, the German Federal Institute of Medicines and Medical Devices already indicated the increase in consumers of this plant that had occurred in the country until at least the end of the preceding year.