Whenever you think of Berlin, what do you think of? Among the list could be many things – the Berlin Wall, the up and coming start-up scene, the art. No doubt, though, that something included in this list has something to do with the throngs of young people that make the city feel like it’s buzzing – a live wire poised ever so precariously above a bathtub of water. Maybe that’s just me, counting myself among those “young people,” and about to be counting myself as one of those “young people” living in Berlin. Or maybe it’s the clubs that stay open all day and all night, or my experience with the U-Bahn on a Friday night, or the one of the many, many green, open parks littered with young people drinking cheap beer, sunbathing on one of those “soak it up while it lasts” sunny, summer days. With that picture successfully painted, I would like to now point to something that most of the time, albeit stereotypically, comes conjointly with the thought of young people: drugs.
As cannabis is used by some three million Germans, I felt it only necessary that this be the drug I hone in on in this post. The 2011 Drug Affinity Study (DAS), carried out by the Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung/BZgA), states that a decline in cannabis use among peoples aged 12-17 can be witnessed in its latest German study, insinuating that the country’s prevention measures, aimed at drug education in middle schools and recreational settings, just might be working.
But what about the older inhabitants of Germany, aged 18 and above; the ones that can legally drink all types of alcohol and smoke tobacco in public? The findings on the 18-25 age group, according to the DAS, show no such reduction, with cannabis remaining the most frequently used illicit substance in this age group across studies. It would seem, then, that cannabis is here to stay. And guess what? The mayor of Kreuzburg borough in Berlin, Monika Herrmann, thinks so too. At the moment, German law prohibits the sale and purchase of cannabis, but allows each federal state to decide how much one may personally possess without being arrested: in Berlin, the amount is 15 grams. Monika Herrmann would like to take this somewhat relaxation of the law even further, by implementing various government-run “coffee shops” where valid card holders over the age of 18 can buy a specified amount of cannabis from a member of a medically trained staff.
Though the benefit to cannabis smokers this suggested new law would bring is obvious, the reasoning behind Herrmann’s thoughts is hardly all fun and games. Her proposal is an attempt to combat the ever-growing issue of the black market in Berlin, something that hosts a medley of social problems, from allowing illegal immigrants to make a somewhat steady income without putting anything back into the economy, to problems concerning the purity of the cannabis that is being sold. Herrmann uses Kreuzberg’s Görlitzer Park, a place infamous for its nearly infinite amount of drug dealers, as one of her prime examples. As quoted by SmartPlanet, Herrmann states, “Punishment hasn’t changed a thing in these cases. We’ve had police raid after police raid, and the sellers are back before you know it… the current direction isn’t working anymore, and we need to try something else.” Her version of this “something else” has been put to successful work in various other countries, the American state of Colorado being one of the newest members to join in the growing trend.
Though this progressive view on cannabis is one shared by many, it should not be confused with an overall lax view on drugs; rather, it should be seen as the opposite. Another of this potential new law’s take home points is that with the regulation of cannabis would come a differentiation between “hard” and “soft” drugs. I am not one to buy into the whole “gateway drug” argument, but it is hard to deny that there is the potential for this argument to be somewhat valid when studies like this one done in 2011 on the E.U show that 52% of the cannabis users it surveyed in Sweden, a country where cannabis is illegal, full out, said they were well aware that other drugs were available for purchase through the same location that they bought their cannabis from. Now, does this mean that all people buying cannabis will eventually move on to buying harder drugs? Of course not. But does it mean that if those people buying cannabis wanted to buy other, harder drugs from their cannabis dealer, they could? Yes, yes it does.
Obviously, if people want to buy harder drugs, they can and most likely will be able to—if they just take a stroll through Görlitzer Park, I’m sure they’ll find what they’re looking for. But when buying cannabis from a “coffee shop” becomes a regulated, regular thing, people simply do not have these same easy options for access to harder drugs. And hey, given that the consumption of cannabis literally cannot kill you, doesn’t it seem like a better alternative to separate it from drugs that most definitely can kill you? Though only time will tell if this potential law will become a reality, the fact that it is circulating at all is telling of the times—a harbinger of what is to come for Berlin’s “notorious” drug scene.