Nothing seems to move when it comes to the Belgian campaign to change the hundred years old prohibitionist drugs law and to decriminalise the possession of cannabis for personal consumption. In Germany however, where social-democrats, greens and right-wing liberals are negotiating a new government, decriminalisation of recreative use seems to be on its way.
Since 2017 the licit consumption of cannabis is limited to prescribed medical use, while sale is assigned to specifically registered pharmacies. The model the three German parties are considering now differs from the Dutch or Luxemburg models. In the Dutch ‘coffeeshops’, limited selling to individual customers is accepted, but supplying (‘at the backdoor’) and holding a stock are severely impeded, while in Luxemburg the cultivation and consumption of cannabis are allowed, but not the commerce. In several US states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon …) you can grow hemp plants for individual consumption and in in Colorado one can apply also for a state license for large scale cultivation and retailing.
In Germany the parties seem to look now at the Uruguayan or Canadian models. Uruguay has legal and state controlled cannabis cultivation and distribution, but doesn’t allow privately organised cannabis industry. At present especially Canadian cannabis brokers seem keen to share their know-how with German companies (including breweries) who are already active in the cultivation of medicinal hemp or are preparing to enter the recreational market.
According to polls, a large majority of the German population is in favour of a decriminalisation of cannabis consumption. Not just the three parties (SPD, Grünen, FDP) that are aiming to form the next government, but also a majority of 60% of the representatives in the Bundestag, 93% (?) of the general population, and up to farmers’ unions and several companies that are anxious to invest millions of euro in a market where up till now yearly some 400 tons of produce are sold under the counter.
Anyway no one has any doubts about the motives for a decriminalisation of cannabis production, commerce and consumption. Apart from quality control and guarantees for consumers, there is the ambition to take a lucrative business away from organised crime and the expectation of cashing the tax revenues from what is now the country’s largest black market. An economist estimates that taxes on the new licit produce might raise to one billion euro yearly, without mentioning even the revenues of VAT and the costs saved on the police and justice system.
I don’t know the German statistics about the judicial costs of the prohibitionist system, but in 2016 the Italian Direzione Nazionale Antimafia e Terrorismo (Dna) issued a strong advice to the government to legalise the cultivation, the processing and the retail of cannabis and its derivates. Their argument? The financial costs of the war on drugs. The Dna estimated these yearly costs at 1 billion euro for the prison system, 180 million for law enforcement by the police and 9 million for the costs of the judiciary. And while tax payers invest these huge amounts of money in a moral war that can’t be won, the Italian Dna and the European Observatory on Drugs and Addiction estimated that in the European market of illicit cannabis products yearly some 20 billion euro were spent and that several crime syndicates and terrorist organisations (Daesh at that time) were heavily involved in it.
In fact, not so much would change with a decriminalisation, writes the taz; all over the world, studies have shown that prohibition barely influences the number of consumers. The use of comforting and/or stimulating means responds to a human need that can occur anywhere, anytime. The appeal of specific means lies in the promise of pleasant and intensive experiences. Getting an occasional buzz may very well be a fundamental physical need of humans (and non-humans?). Personally, liberalisation or decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis consumption won’t affect me directly; I don’t smoke at all since more than twenty years. I think what matters more is what criminologist and law professor Louk Hulsman used to call ‘drug policy as a source of drug problems and a vehicle of colonisation and repression’. His argument was that repressive drug policies themselves create lots of secondary drug problems and that they in fact are a vehicle of colonisation of the lives of people for the benefit of the actual moral and economic order and the governmentality it sustains. Never has it been more clear than today in a city like Antwerpen, that the war on drugs is actually a war on the users of illicit drugs (including consumers of cannabis), and that this war is mainly a pretext to intimidate and oppress specific segments of the population. Prohibitionism in drugs matters is not just about drugs consumers; it is about imposing a moral order and specific power structures on the whole of society.
(On the other hand the question remains: will the decriminalisation of the personal use of cannabis products even slightly change anything fundamental in the ways power is exercised nowadays?)