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Court Orders Hash off the Streets

DW Staff (nda)July 9, 2004

The German Federal Constitutional Court has reviewed its previous ruling on the possession of cannabis and returned the carrying of small amounts to the criminal realm.

The hopes of three million cannabis users have gone up in smokeImage: AP

The Federal Constitutional Court (BVG) in Karlsruhe ruled Friday that the possession of small amounts of hashish and carrying cannabis paraphernalia will remain a punishable offence.

The ruling dashes the hopes of Germany’s estimated three million pot-smokers that the BVG would reform the laws concerning the drug in its first review since 1994. An official statement said "nothing has changed in the evaluation that cannabis consumption carries substantial dangers and risks" and that there was no reason to change the law.

In April 1994, the BVG decided that cannabis possession in small quantities for occasional personal consumption should not be treated as a criminal offence. However, after struggling to find a consensus on how much hash constitutes a "small" quantity and how often is "occasional use," the BVG had decided the simplest solution would be to re-criminalize these gray areas.

Greens call for review

Jerzy Montag, the Green Party’s speaker on legal issues in the Bundestag, demanded a review of the judgment. "Hashish is no more dangerous than nicotine and alcohol. Therefore, hashish consumers might not be in any more danger than a smoker or a heavy drinker."

The Christian Social Union’s Health Minister Werner Schnappauf held a different view "The gossip around cannabis as a supposedly harmless drug has led to a dangerous increase in youngsters’ consumption," he told reporters. This playing down of the drug is irresponsible, explained Schnappauf and he warned that a new 'entrance culture' where youngsters would try other drugs after smoking dope would be the result of liberalization.

Experts' study show risk factor low

However, three leading European experts on addiction, who had been charged by the Federal Health Ministry to compile definitive information on the effects of cannabis, came to the conclusion that cannabis consumption was far less risky than first thought. Despite an estimated three million users, fatalities attributed to hashish were lower than the 40,000 deaths through alcohol every year.

The study also found that cannabis has a low dependency rate of one to two percent among all users. When presented to the BVG in 1994, the study helped in the decision to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of the drug.

But when reviewing the situation, the BVG concluded that the claim that there had been no deaths through cannabis use was unsubstantiated and that the drug remained a risk to youngsters who could still damage themselves while under the influence of the drug, while not actually being harmed by the drug itself.