When one thinks about Germany, rarely does cannabis freedom immediately come to mind. Volkswagens, maybe, but lax pot laws? Hardly ever.
But since April 28th, 1994, marijuana users in Deutschland have enjoyed the freedom to possess reasonably personal amounts of cannabis without fear of arrest or prosecution. Considered by the German government to be a "soft drug", marijuana has not necessarily been legalized, so much as it is tolerated by authorities.
Although German head shops openly sell grow lights right next to bongs, laws regarding cannabis use, possession, and sale vary rather wildly throughout the country. In the northern regions of Germany, possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis is unlikely to lead to trouble with authorities. As you travel south, however, laws change, often becoming stricter. In Thuringia, and even further south into Tuttlingen (home of the Volcano Vaporizor), the laws stiffen, and allowable personal amounts can drop to as low as 2-6 grams of herb. In the nation's capital city of Berlin, one may possess up to 15 grams of bud.
Driving while stoned (even in a Volkswagen), or with larger amounts of cannabis, is not recommended in Germany - particularly along the Dutch border, a region notorious for international drug trafficking. Unreliable "sweat tests" are often used by German police on drivers to discourage "weed-tourism" from bordering countries.
Still, arrests for simple possession of pot are few and far between in Germany. Sales and cultivation, however, are still off-limits on all but the smallest of scales. The newly elected Mayor of the nation's largest city aims to change that portion of German pot policy as well.
Mayor Monika Herrmann, the new top boss of Berlin's Kreuzberg District, sees black market distribution as a main hurdle in drug reform in her country, and her prime example is Görlitzer Park in her own city. For years a magnet for drug dealers to assemble and push their wares, Herrmann hopes that a new approach to cannabis law in Berlin will help to clean up the popular park and surrounding streets.
Herrmann says, "If we want to gain control of the dealers and their products, we must manage distribution."
Her plan is to legalize the sale of cannabis in the city of Berlin via a Mayor-approved chain of cannabis cafes, similar to what one thinks of when they think about Germany's northern neighbors in Amsterdam. Herrmann makes clear, however, that Dutch "coffee" shops are not the model that she is striving to implement in Berlin.
She foresees the shops literally being run by the city, and staffed by medically trained personnel who are able to counsel and advise customers on the choices that will be made available.
The debate that has been sparked in Berlin could have serious repercussions on nationwide government elections scheduled for next week, on September 22nd. While the nation's version of the Democratic Party, the SPD, and other like-minded groups are constantly pushing for further relaxing of national cannabis laws, social conservatives in Germany are not too anxious for reform, deferring instead to just letting the police handle the problem.
Local police groups are generally against the notion of retail cannabis cafes, though they are being forced to admit that raids and aggressive police work merely push dealers around the city, a step ahead of law enforcement. Proponents of the cafes argue that, without the burden of busting potheads, the police could begin to focus on eradicating the harder and truly harmful drugs from society.
Regarding nationwide acceptance and legalization of marijuana, Georg Wurth, spokesman for Berlin's pro-cannabis group "Hanf Verband", told local German news outlet DeutscheWelle, "With a conservative government there might still be problems, and it will take some more years until it happens. But I'm enthusiastic at the moment, and I think we will get it done. It's just a question of time."
With wild neighbors like Switzerland, the Czechs, Poland, Denmark, Austria and Belgium all having done away with prohibition-era pot laws; and by sharing a 577 kilometer border with the Netherlands, it seems that peer pressure on pot may be working in favor of German weed lovers.