Legalising Cannabis in Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg

Green Green Görlitzer Park A bid for Legalization

Yet again a federal watchdog has rejected the proposal from district mayor Monika Herrmann for legal cannabis shops in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The Federal Institute for Drug and Medical Devices (BfArM) has denied the initiative, preventing the development of Dutch-style coffee shops in the quarter. With days to appeal the decision what does the future of legalized Cannabis look like here in Berlin?

In spite of the recent and failed attempt at legalization, there have been fresh waves of support to lift the prohibition placed on this illicit drug. Joachim Pfeiffer, a conservative politician for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has openly crossed the floor and joined Green Party members on the matter. The Green Party has long backed the legalization of marijuana here in Germany. These new ripples of momentum indicate a change that has long caused divides between the two parties. With Pfeiffer advocating legalisation in the face of a currently unsuccessful system of criminalisation, he argues that the tax gains would be in the billions.

Growing momentum and steady progression around the world has unsteadied these formally rigid and dogmatic views on the drug. Despite this however, change has failed to materialise here in liberal Berlin. This is perhaps due to the often contradictory nature of the city. We have on one side a city that cries ‘Refugees Welcome’, stream free Internet content, and carry up to 15grams of marijuana in your possession. On the other, we are often made to feel unwelcomed as an outsider in this city, remain unable to download the same content on the web unless prepared to be heavily penalised by the government, and it remains completely illegal to buy marijuana anywhere in the country.

Now though as Berlin and the rest of Europe sit in the wake of fresh ripples of liberalization from across the Atlantic, many believe change is around the corner. With several states in the U.S., like Colorado and Washington completely legalizing cannabis to the public over the age of 21, and many others like Arizona and New York now permitting the sale of medical marijuana, a natural progression seems imminent here in Europe.

The difficulty though when operating in the remit of legalization here in Berlin is not without its hardships. The current social attitudes and laws, especially in the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, are extremely laissez-faire. Any bid to legalize it here in the city would have to be met with effective governmental action. The initiative would have to exceed mere didactic education of marijuana regulations in coffee shops, and look to provide definitive steps to tackle black-market sales. Ineffective proposals would see legal marijuana prices undercut by dealers, and coffee shops left as mere emblems of another failed government incentive.

Yet from the governmental point of view there are several positives to be gained from legalisation. Current policing in Görlitzer Park, Kreuzberg, is enormous. So large in fact many estimates reveal that up to 41,000 hours of police time is wasted in these perennial raids of the park. Yet as Pfeiffer, and many others have disclosed, legalised marijuana could bring revenue of between 1-2 billion to the country in tax alone each year.

Polls have indicated however that the overall German perception on legalized marijuana lags behind that of other European countries. With as much as 65% of the populace reject the proposal and it will be a difficult road ahead before we see it legalized here in the city. In spite of this there are an abundance of reasons why change should come. Since President Nixon’s infamous words were broadcast to an unsuspecting and vulnerable public, the war on drugs has brought nothing but failure. It would be difficult to call it anything else. With ethnic minority incarceration rates disproportionally high across the globe, homicide levels between drug cartels and civilians unjustifiable, and supply and demand chains as solidified and prominent since the 70’s when the war was waged, it is due time to address the changes required.

Yet as Berlin fails to make the progressive leap at this stage one must feel the future of legalised marijuana is somewhat less hazy. There are hordes of new studies from countries like Uruguay that have legalised cannabis and states like Colorado, which have done the same, and the empirical data is mounting. Many of the fears initially stipulated, often regarding crime rates and traffic accidents have gone unfounded after the legalization of marijuana in a place. In fact Colorado has even reported a reduction in overall crime rates, and minor dip in traffic accidents.

So as the haze in the room lifts and clarity is once more regained, the future appears positive albeit with a greenish hue. Although change will be far from immediate, and Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg looks unlikely to transform into miniature Amsterdam any time soon, progression is essential. As the current system flexes and wobbles under fresh waves of change from across Atlantic, the archaic and draconian means of enforcing the law appear particularly futile in todays developed societies. With increasing means to educate and inform a conscious public, one hopes change will come sooner than we imagine.

By Liam McGuckin

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