Here at Highsnobiety, our interests extend far beyond the world of fashion and sneakers. We’ve always got our finger on the pulse of wider cultural issues and events, so today we’re taking a look at Germany's new weed laws.
Germany just passed one of the world’s most progressive medical marijuana plans. The new law will put weed in more pharmacies and require public insurers to cover the costs of cannabis products, as they do other pharmaceutical prescriptions, when cannabis is prescribed for “severe conditions.”
Germany will also start growing its own weed. This will replace the old medical marijuana law, which granted permits for people to grow their own. So recreational growers will not have any excuses for ‘exotic houseplants.’
The drug dealers of Berlin’s infamous open-air marijuana market in Görlitzer Park that spoke to Highsnobiety were surprisingly supportive. “Obviously its not going to be so good for business, but it’s the right thing to do if it can help people,” said Jan*, 24. Like many of the dealers lining in the parks of Berlin, he is an African immigrant, this time from Lagos.
While Germany is standardizing its medical marijuana supply chain, authorities in the capital turn a blind eye to illicit dealers selling dime bags in public spaces. But although it will soon be easier to get free weed from the local pharmacy, most dealers we spoke to were not threatened by the competition.
“We also get people who buy weed from us to treat pain,” said Menis*, 27, a Gambian dealer. “Some don’t come anymore, but a lot of them still do. You don’t get exactly the same experience from the pharmacy products as you do with the marijuana we sell. They spray it with something different. I didn’t like it as much.”
Currently pharmacy prices for medical marijuana fluctuate from 12 to 20 euro per gram, compared to the roughly 10-euro price in the park.
Who Stands to Lose from Medical Marijuana
If data from the United States’ research on the effects of medical marijuana is an indicator of how things could play out in Germany, there might be a reason drug dealers are so chill about the new law: pharmaceutical companies stand to loose more customers.
There is clear difference between annual drug doses prescribed by physicians in medical marijuana states, and in states where weed is completely illegal, according to a 2015 study. There were 1,826 fewer painkiller doses prescribed, followed by 562 fewer anxiety medications and 541 fewer pharmaceutical nausea treatments prescribed in states where patients could be treated with cannabis.
The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research also found that legal access to medical marijuana is linked to a significant drop in the number of people abusing and dying from prescription painkillers.
This could catch on in Germany as Germans have already started turning away from traditional pharmaceuticals to more natural products. Over half the population has used some form of homeopathic treatment, with awareness and use of alternative drugs rising steadily since their introduction to pharmacies in 1976.
Germany Is Not California
It is no secret that California’s medical marijuana dispensary program has relatively lax requirements to determine who could benefit from a medical marijuana card, which are often used for recreational smoking rather than strictly for treatment of an illness. More than 91,000 medical marijuana cards have been issued since 2004, according to California’s Department of Public Health.
“Germany has much stricter guidelines than California for prescribing marijuana,” said Goerg Wurth, head of the German Hemp association. “Almost anyone who wants a prescription can get one there. In Germany things are more regulated and bureaucratic. Doctors are checking to make sure medical marijuana is not used for recreational purposes.”
There are roughly 30 illnesses for which the German government recommends cannabis, ranging from chronic pain to attention deficit disorder and epilepsy. But even after getting the green light from a doctor to use marijuana, the German system is more regimented than the dispensary model.
Instead of setting up new businesses that deal exclusively in weed, Germans must go through pharmacies. And while doctors can prescribe cannabis for a broad range of ailments, only those that prove to be “severe” will receive reimbursement from public insurers. Doctors also have more sway over what kind of cannabis you can get.
“Although you can get smoking and edible options, it is more likely doctors will suggest vaporizers or THC drops, which are less harmful and easier to dose,” Wurth said.
Where Does Germany Stand Compared to Its Neighbors?
Germany stands somewhere in the middle when it comes to European weed legislation. While some of its neighbors have yet to broach the subject of medical marijuana in parliament, others such as the Netherlands and Spain have certain cities where recreational consumption is legal.
Although many European states have medical marijuana available, Germany will join the Netherlands, Italy and the Czech Republic as the one of the only countries where weed is produced.
“There is more movement for weed legalization than ever before in the world, and it won’t be long until the first European country fully legalizes it,” Wurth said.
Recreational Smoking Is Still Illegal
Despite creating easy access to medial marijuana, the government has been clear in saying that this law is not to be taken as a step towards legalization of recreational use. The government cites health concerns as the main reason for keeping weed from the general public.
“International studies from the last 10 years show that the use and abuse of cannabis can be associated with a number of serious short-term and long-term risks, particularly among young people,” the German Health Ministry said. “Psychological and psychosocial disorders (such as schizophrenic psychoses), organ-medical effects (such as cardiovascular diseases) and neuro-cognitive impairments (such as the impairment of learning attention and memory functions) are mentioned.”
Still, those pushing for blanket legalization see the new law as a possible step towards it, looking to countries such as the United States and Canada which progressed to legalization after introduced medical marijuana. Eight states recently legalized marijuana in the U.S., whereas Canada introduced legislation to legalize marijuana throughout the whole country this spring.
“I believe that medical marijuana will relax the attitudes of Germans towards cannabis, especially the older, more conservative generation,” Wurth said. “The decision to legalize it for medical purposes was more or less unanimous, whereas the majority of Germans still don’t think it should be legal for recreational use.”
The latest European Drug Report found that nearly a quarter of Germans have tried marijuana.
Germany may lack the political will for blanket legalization, but there are many initiatives and local governments willing to give it a shot. Groups in Berlin, for example, have expressed an interest in the city being a testing site for possible legalization to see whether a change in law could lead to decreases in crime.
“It will eventually become legal in Germany,” Wurth said. “But for it is good that we are taking care of patients.”
On the topic of legalizing weed, here's our look at what Portland is like two years after weed was legalized.