Berlin: New Coalition for Coffeeshops in the German Capital

The new government coalition in Berlin is changing the cannabis landscape with a scientifically monitored cannabis-pilot program to replace the zero tolerance policy at the capital’s cannabis hotspots.

Berlin is relatively liberal compared to other federal states when it comes to cannabis. Possession of up to 15 grams is not a criminal matter, however, authorities can confiscate the “contraband” and issue a written warning to any individual caught. Generally speaking, cannabis is omnipresent in Berlin — locals and tourists alike consume openly in parks, on the street, and in clubs or cafes without being bothered by law enforcement.

The coalition agreement, published on November 16, announced further liberalization in dealing with cannabis as well as the reapplication of a cannabis-pilot program following a coffeeshop business model. Zero-Tolerance zones, where the 15-gram limit for personal use has been overridden by the previous government, will be abolished.

In Berlin, a huge, open drug scene has established itself around the Görlitzer Park in the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain district during the last few years. District Mayor Monika Herrmann encouraged the formation of this open scene in 2013 when she drafted and applied for a coffeeshop-pilot at the federal government. But without the support of the Berlin regional government, the application had no chance of making its way through the Federal Ministry of Health. The previous state government still rejected to join the initiative and instead tried unsuccessfully to punish consumption and possession at the weed hotspots with more attention than other locations. But despite one year of so called zero-tolerance on a two-mile walk from the underground stations “Warschauer Straße” to “Görlitzer Bahnhof,” weed and other illegal substances are still offered everywhere and sold semi-openly. A gram of indoor cannabis costs an average of ten euros in these areas.

“Health and prevention policy has no evidence that penalties of the consumption of cannabis have any effect. The coalition will abolish the so-called zero-tolerance zones for the possession of cannabis in the city. The coalition will develop a concept for the implementation of a scientifically supported model project for the controlled sales of cannabis to adults and will work on its legal framework. The possibilities for treatments with cannabis products especially for pain patients are to be widened. In addition, the coalition is acting on the exclusion of advertising for tobacco and alcohol on municipal advertising space. The coalition is revising the non-smoking legislation with the aim of protecting children and young people in particular,” the coalition agreement published today says.

Small-Scale growers may still have a hard time

When it came to cannabis, the coalition negotiations faltered in October because the Green and Left Party demanded more. They also wanted to decriminalize the cultivation of a few plants for the personal supply and relax the DUI rules. As a result, small-scale cannabis cultivators still face a house search and subsequent trial if caught by the authorities. When it comes to DUI penalties, drivers with more than one nanogram of THC in their system can have their driver’s license revoked. In order for it to be reinstated, drivers must present a 6- to 12-month abstinence certificate.

What happens next in Germany?

The new government has to prepare an application for the controlled cannabis delivery model and send it to the Federal Ministry of Health — the conservative ministry rejected the District of Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain application in 2015. However, in the time it takes for the document to be worked out, formulated and submitted, laws may change with the federal elections in 2017. The City Municipality of Bremen is a recent example of a city-state that pursued similar legislation. In April 2016, the new government of Bremen announced the decriminalization of up to three cannabis plants. They also relaxed the criteria for DUI rules and established their coffeeshop-pilot program.

If Bremen and Berlin decide to issue licenses for monitored cannabis shops, chances are there will be a limited number of state-controlled shops in Bremen and Berlin opening as soon as 2018 or 2019; their activities will be the subject of scientific studies. In addition, the new law on medical cannabis use is expected to lead to a rapid increase in patient enrollment starting in Spring 2017. If medical cultivation licenses for German companies are given out next year, Berlin and Bremen coffeeshops could receive legal, domestically grown medical-grade cannabis.

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