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Düsseldorf one step closer to legal cannabis

December 7, 2016

The Düsseldorf City Council has taken advice from experts on plans to legalize the sale of cannabis. It hopes to use scientific research to gain the approval it needs from the federal government.

Hanfparade 2016 Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

Düsseldorf City Council on Wednesday took the next step in its plan to legalize the regulated sale of recreational cannabis to over 18-year-olds, taking advice from experts in psychology, crime and economics during a consultation at City Hall.

Representatives from other city councils interested in pursuing similar schemes, including Cologne and Münster, were also present at the meeting.

Dr Armin Claus, a child psychologist specializing in youth addiction, voiced concerns that legalization could reduce young people's awareness of the dangers involved in taking this drug.

"The more people who take the drug, the more socially acceptable it becomes, and the less it is seen as a possible danger," Claus said.

Hanfparade 2015 Berlin
The Düsseldorf City Council wants to legalize the sale of cannabisImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen

Dr Ulrich Preuß, director of the Vitos Herborn psychiatric clinic, added that people who use cannabis are at an increased risk of drug addiction and mood disorders.

However, Green politician and former police commissioner Irene Mihalic argued that the biggest risk stems from the fact that cannabis is currently sold on the criminal market.

"Criminalization and deregulation are two sides of the same coin. Drug policy is health policy - and it must be separated from domestic and criminal policy."

Federal approval

The proposal for cannabis legalization in Düsseldorf was first put forward a year ago by the City Council's "traffic light" (red-yellow-green) coalition of Social Democrats, liberal Free Democrats and Greens.

Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough council applied last year to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices for a similar license, but the application was refused on the grounds that it was deemed to be in direct conflict with narcotics law.

Düsseldorf hopes to avoid the same fate by using a scientific study to clarify the effects of legalized cannabis. Should the study show that participants were not negatively affected by their ability to purchase the drug legally, the scheme would be rolled out to all adults.

Symbolbild Joint Kiffen Marihuana selbstgedrehte Zigarette
Significant numbers of people would like to see smoking joints made legalImage: Colourbox/B. Bechard

Creating different models

Speaking to DW after Wednesday's meeting, Green politician Angela Hebeler explained that the best way forward was for regional governments to work together.

"It makes sense to work with all these cities and share out who does what," she said. "Maybe we should create different models, so that we find one that gets approval."

However, Hebeler also pointed out that the proposed research into the effects of cannabis legalization would rely greatly on the involvement of the scientific community, particularly when it comes to funding.

"Conservative estimates for such a study run from 800,000 euros ($860,000) to 1 million euros. That's just not possible for Cologne, or Münster, or Düsseldorf."

Symbolbild Cannabis als Medizin
Any pilot scheme would need federal approvalImage: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Sensible regulation

Georg Wurth, chairman of the German Cannabis Association, welcomes initiatives like the one being developed by Düsseldorf. He told DW that the ban on cannabis has failed to reduce consumption of the drug among young people.

"The ban has actually had many negative effects," he says. "Consumers are criminalized, black-market dealers are encouraged, prevention is made more difficult and the cost of criminal prosecution is high, while at the same time tax revenue is lost.

"Sensible regulation of the existing market would remove, or at least reduce, these problems."

Wurth believes that, with several cities keen to introduce similar pilot schemes, "pressure is mounting" on the federal government to make a change.

He likens the situation to the struggle to legalize heroin-assisted treatment some 15 years ago. "Frankfurt initially proposed a pilot scheme on its own, and this was rejected," he explains. "But then seven cities managed to get the proposals accepted together."