Why aren't all harmful drugs banned?

That's why cannabis and co. Are really forbidden - but alcohol is allowed

Martin JoppenAnyone who has ever visited a large Rose Monday procession or a Bavarian folk festival knows that alcohol is consumed in masses there. After all, Sultan Doosch would have, oans, zwoa, gsuffa! And while most of the drunks sway and slur along happily, some keep the police on duty.

Because an alcohol-related intoxication ends in some cases in aggressive behavior. Fights and sexual assault increase wherever many people are very drunk. Not to mention the stomach contents on the floor, also called curb pizza, or the proverbial schnapps corpses on the roadside.

At parties where MDMA (methylene-dioxy-methyl-amphetamine - the most common ingredient in ecstasy) is consumed, most people dance euphorically to the point of exhaustion. Some also want to have in-depth conversations or hug strangers. Because ecstasy makes you hyper-empathic. However, some suddenly complain of palpitations, circulatory collapse or panic attacks. However, there is one thing that MDMA users rarely have: Aggressive towards other people.

So why is alcohol available practically on every corner in Germany, while possession of MDMA is a criminal offense? Many will now answer, "Because MDMA is more dangerous." Wrong.

Scientists compared 20 drugs

In 2010, a team of scientists led by the British psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist David Nutt from Imperial College London made the first systematic comparison of the harm potential of the 20 most common drugs.

16 criteria were defined in order to determine the self-harm and external harm potential of these substances. The criteria included, for example, the potential of the substance to be addictive, its effects on the health of the consumer, its influence on the consumer's social environment and consequences for society in general, for example by stressing the health system. You can see the result of the comparison in this bar chart:

David Nutt

The most common mental illness in men: alcohol addiction

Accordingly, alcohol is by far the most harmful substance in the test, especially due to the high level of external damage - even far more harmful than heroin, crack, meth or cocaine. And tobacco is more dangerous than cannabis. In a comparison of the 20 most common addictive drugs magic mushrooms, the pain reliever buprenorphine, LSD and ecstasy are particularly less harmful - of course, but not completely harmless. This has been known in scientific circles since 2010, i.e. for almost ten years.

We spoke with the cultural anthropologist Lena Papasabbas from the Zukunftsinstitut Frankfurt about why the less dangerous drugs are still criminalized in Germany, while the most harmful of all drugs is available in every supermarket - often even in the checkout area.

“Alcohol addiction is the most common mental illness among men in western industrialized nations. But at the same time, no other drug is so culturally accepted, ”she says in an interview with Business Insider. “From breakfast with champagne to beer after work, it is incredibly difficult in Germany to avoid consumption at all. The fact that there are masses of alcohol addicts and alcohol-related deaths in Germany shows that this topic is severely neglected. "

1.8 million alcohol-dependent Germans

Around 1.8 million people between 18 and 64 in Germany are dependent on alcohol, according to data from the German headquarters for addiction issues. According to studies, cannabis, MDMA and LSD only rarely lead to physical (but, if used frequently, to psychological) addiction. Possible side effects of cannabinoids range from dry mouth and muscle weakness to depression, hallucinations or memory disorders.

“Many students who smoke weed in the morning before school experience a decline in performance because cannabis affects their short-term memory. But there are also students with ADHD who cannabis helps them concentrate, ”says Georg Wurth, managing director of the German Hemp Association, in an interview with Business Insider. "In addition, no one has ever died from cannabis use."

Confirmed deaths from cannabis: 0

In fact: Even if reports to the contrary haunt the media over and over again, no death that was directly caused by cannabis use has never been scientifically proven. In contrast, 74,000 people in Germany die every year as a result of alcohol consumption - be it from cirrhosis of the liver, strokes or, for example, as a result of the significantly increased risk of cancer due to alcohol. In 2016, around 40,000 acts of violence - particularly serious and dangerous bodily harm - were committed under the influence of alcohol across Germany. That is 27.3 percent of all violent crimes solved in the year.

In contrast to these figures, the German state has a revenue of 3.165 billion euros from taxes on beer, sparkling wine and spirits alone. And that brings us to one of the reasons why, according to the futurologist, alcohol, the most dangerous of all drugs, is legal in Germany.

Political discussion on a medieval level

“In Germany, the decision as to whether a drug is legal or illegal is not made on the basis of scientific studies. The way in which the argument is made seems in part to be downright medieval, ”says Lena Papasabbas. “Politics is guided by economic considerations. I think that the legalization of cannabis will also come as a result of an economic policy decision. In doing so, the state should actually ensure that citizens can use drugs as responsibly and health-consciously as possible. "

For example, even the so-called “drug checking” offered in many clubs, ie checking the ingredients of a drug for safety, is forbidden. In the German (hemp) capital Berlin, political work is currently being done to set up a corresponding test center. It could open in 2020.

In an interview with “Bild”, the former chairman of the Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter also spoke out in favor of abolishing the repressive drug policy and more care for consumers. The ban stigmatizes people and is the beginning of criminal careers.

This is how cannabis was banned in Germany

But how did the ban actually come about? Cannabis use is as old as humanity. It was already consumed in the Stone Age. It came to Europe with the crusaders in the Middle Ages and was cultivated in monasteries - even Hildegard von Bingen grew cannabis and valued it as a pain reliever, medicine and luxury product, according to the science magazine "Terra X". William Shakespeare and George Washington are also said to have smoked pot.

It was not until 1925 that the cannabis ban was passed at the Geneva Opium Conference. However, it was not health concerns, but mainly economic interests that played a role. For example, hemp was used to make a lot of paper, but also ropes and other textiles. When wood and man-made fibers came onto the market as a substitute, the predominantly European and American producers had an interest in banning Indian hemp as a competing product.

Since Germany was the market leader in the trade in heroin and cocaine at the beginning of the 20th century, everything was done to prevent restrictions on the trade in these substances. Cannabis did not play a major role in this country and so this ban was willingly implemented in 1929 with the "Law on the traffic with narcotics", the forerunner of today's Narcotics Act BtMG. And that is still true today, even if in 2017 the Bundestag decided to approve cannabis on prescription for certain diseases - almost 60 different ones, for example glaucoma, depression, ADHD or irritable bowel syndrome.

LSD has been banned in Germany since 1971. Lena Papasabbas attributes the ban to the drug's mind-expanding effect and the bourgeoisie's fear of the resulting subversive movement. MDMA was included in the BtMG by the Bundestag on August 1, 1986. The government responded to the protest of a member of the Green Party by pointing out that Germany was obliged to do so by a UN resolution of February 11, 1986. In 2009, the list of substances prohibited by the BtMG was expanded to include the term “mushrooms”, so that magic mushrooms are now clearly included.

Legalization does not mean unconditional release

The German Hemp Association demands the legalization of cannabis. This does not mean unconditional approval. “The ban on the trade in cannabis is creating a black market that trades hundreds of tons each year. The result is not just massive criminalization of people. The ban also leads to consumer protection problems, especially a lack of quality control, ”says managing director Georg Wurth. "We want to replace the existing black market with a regulated market with youth and consumer protection".

The ideal would be a number of cannabis specialty stores where trained staff advises adult customers. “Today, dealers sell to young people because they are already making themselves liable to prosecution. But anyone who legally earns good money with a sales license is unlikely to risk losing the license for violating the Youth Protection Act, ”he says. He calls for the same concept for alcohol and tobacco, as well as a ban on advertising for addictive substances in general.

The Portuguese solution as an ideal?

Futurologist Lena Papasabbas believes that Portugal has chosen the right path. “If you are caught there with weed or ecstasy for your own consumption, this is punished in a similar way to wrong parking. That's why you're not a criminal. "

The Portuguese criminal attorney and deputy chairman of the European Association of Criminal Lawyers Vânia Costa Ramos confirmed this to Business Insider: “Since the entry into force of Law 30/2000, the consumption, acquisition and possession of plants, substances or preparations for personal consumption are no longer a criminal offense, but merely an administrative offense . This means that a fine of 50 to 700 euros is usually due. ”In Portugal, up to 25 grams of cannabis are considered to be the amount for personal consumption.

Consumers are criminals in Germany

In Germany, however, drug possession - regardless of the amount - is a criminal offense within the meaning of §29 BtMG and can be punished by law with up to five years in prison. However, paragraph 5 of the law applies for small quantities: the court can waive the penalty for possession or cultivation for personal consumption. Can.

This also happens in practice. "Possession of only small amounts of drugs for personal use often leads to a suspension of proceedings," writes Munich defense lawyer Christian Wehner. In Germany, however, the federal states themselves regulate what is a small amount - so there is no Germany-wide guideline value. While it is 15 grams in Berlin, significantly lower values ​​apply in ten federal states, including Bavaria, Hesse and Saxony. The limit there is six grams, so in Germany a consumer often becomes a criminal very quickly.

The attitude of Germans to cannabis is changing rapidly

Politicians and the general public are changing opinions on the legalization of cannabis. In a survey by Infratest Dimap on behalf of the German Hemp Association in 2018, 46 percent of Germans voted for legalization. Four years earlier, approval was still at 30 percent. “We are on the verge of finding a majority in the population who would like cannabis to be legalized,” says Wurth.

“For years, however, a majority has been in favor of decriminalizing consumers. Politicians would have to act if the principle of democracy is taken seriously, ”he says. He is convinced that it is only a matter of time. “Theoretically, it would be conceivable that a decision will be made this year that the possession of small amounts is no longer a criminal offense. Experts from all parliamentary groups have already spoken out in favor of the next step, the legalization of cannabis. ”Several German cities have announced corresponding model projects with specialist shops.

The Ministry of Health rules out legalization

A spokeswoman for the CDU-led Federal Ministry of Health responded to a request from Business Insider: “In the opinion of the federal government, the consumption of cannabis for pleasure and intoxication purposes is risky and scientifically proven to be hazardous to health. Cannabis is subject to the Narcotics Act (BtMG), which regulates all legal questions in connection with narcotics (psychoactive substances). Accordingly, the possession, trade and cultivation of cannabis are prohibited. It is therefore an important concern of the federal government to prevent the abuse of cannabis and to protect the population from the dangers posed by psychoactive substances. (...) Legalization is therefore out of the question for reasons of health protection. "

And what about alcohol? “Alcohol is not a drug in the sense of narcotics law. However, it is recognized that alcohol abuse poses dangers to individuals and communities. The federal government takes risky and abusive alcohol consumption very seriously. For children and adolescents, alcohol in every form represents a great danger. That is why the federal government carries out a large number of preventive measures to prevent alcohol consumption among minors and to prevent problematic consumption behavior among adults. "

Also read: We tested the hemp beer, which might disappoint some customers

Marlene Mortler (CSU), who left her post as drug commissioner for the federal government after five and a half years for Brussels at the beginning of July 2019, said in an interview with “Deutschlandfunk” that she was “very, very unpopular” with her efforts to limit German alcohol consumption, because he is very firmly anchored in our society. Especially since the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco already cause so many problems, she sees no advantage in adding another legal drug with cannabis.

In other words: Politicians know very well that alcohol is at least as dangerous (or more dangerous) as all drugs that fall under the BtMG. But alcohol is an integral part of German culture and an important economic factor. If it were suddenly banned, one could imagine that, as an exception, a large part of the population would take to the streets together. That is why the federal government is extremely cautious when it comes to banning alcohol. As far as cannabis is concerned, as I said, no further drugs are to be made legal in Germany. There was no reason to change anything about the ban. Until now.