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The less harsh war on drugs

Matthias von Hein/ zaFebruary 3, 2015

Germany's drugs commissioner, Marlene Mortler, wants the seriously ill to have easier access to cannabis. It's not a full change of policy, but that will come, says DW's Matthias von Hein.

A sticker calling for the legalization of marijuana lies on the street. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

It's a small step, but a step in the right direction.

The German government's drugs commissioner, Marlene Mortler, wants health insurance companies to cover the costs of cannabis for medicinal purposes for people who are seriously ill.

"More people should have access to medicinal cannabis," said Mortler in an interview with the daily newspaper "Die Welt."

She is responding to a growing sentiment among the public.

In the Autumn of 2014, a study conducted by the German Hemp Association (Deutscher Hanfverband) and the pollsters, Infratest dimap, showed 80 percent of respondents think it should be easier for patients to access cannabis.

The same survey also suggested the majority of Germans oppose the worldwide war on drugs. Just one in five of the respondents considers the aggressive approach taken by national governments successful.

The front of prohibition is crumbling

The United Nations' convention on illicit substances forms the basis of the worldwide ban on drugs. Its signatories include 184 nations which have committed themselves to allowing cannabis exclusively for medicinal or scientific purposes.

But worldwide, this front of prohibition is crumbling.

Uruguay became the first nation to fully legalize cannabis - from its cultivation to its consumption.

Other Latin American countries are keeping a keen eye on this experiment in Uruguay. Chile, for instance, is one where it's now possible to grow medicinal marijuana.

Columbia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, is convinced the repressive tactics of old have failed. His Ecuadorian counterpart is of the same opinion.

And in Mexico, the war on drugs has sparked violence similar to that of a civil war. Since 2006, 100,000 people have fallen victim to the drug wars.

Even in the USA, which for years has been the main driver of this expensive and ineffective policy, things are changing irrevocably.

About 18 million US residents live in federal states where marijuana is fully legal. And that with interesting side effects. In Colorado, tax revenue from the legal sale of cannabis was 30 percent higher than tax revenue from alcohol sales.

Meanwhile, large investment companies are setting aside risk capital for the marijuana industry. One such investor is Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, and one of the first to invest in Facebook and Spotify.

Demand and supply are stable

After decades of repression it's getting clearer and clearer that the war on drugs has failed.

It has failed to reduce supply and it has failed to reduce demand.

Instead, it has managed to beef up organized crime.

And it has criminalized millions of users.

Among under-25s in Germany alone, it is estimated half have some experience with cannabis. It is estimated that between three and seven million people in Germany use drugs regularly. Why these people should live with one foot in prison is now beyond any reasonable explanation.

More than half of the country's law professors believe the narcotics act to be unconstitutional.

Aside from these professors, ever more addiction experts, doctors and, yes, even police believe criminal law to be the wrong means for dealing with drugs and drug abuse.

And slowly this is trickling down to the policians.

Cannabis is by no means harmless - it's the same as other drugs, including the socially accepted alcohol.

But the ideal of a drugs-free society is an illusion. It's impossible to push it through with the law, even in prisons.

If, however, you can't stop the drugs market, then you have to regulate it and tax it - and do what you can to reduce the risks.

Both the current trend and common sense point this way.

Marlene Mortler will have to get moving.