Joint Statement: Only a regulated market for cannabis can combat organised crime effectively

Joint Statement of Dr. Joachim Pfeiffer (CDU/CSU spokesperson for economic affairs) and Dieter Janecek (Green spokesperson for economic affairs) – originally published in German (13.04.2015)

When there is talk of mafia-like structures on European soil, some people may tend to think more of Italy rather than Germany. The fact is, however, that we have a large, highly active black market for illegal drugs here in Germany, one with the closest of ties to organised crime. And we have not succeeded in combatting this effectively with bans. The reason is that it is not possible to ban a black market. A black market is the consequence of a ban. Our ban on the possession and purchase of cannabis – in other words, the demand – thus has more of a proxy effect than a supplementary one, and the stamp of illegal behaviour, with the risks this entails, is transferred to the consumers. This appears to be a form of displacement activity – as consumption itself is allowed in principle. As a result, we spend between one and two billion euros a year prosecuting consumers, although the real criminal sector should actually be the focus of our efforts. Figuratively speaking, we are arresting the witnesses more often than the perpetrators. We are then forced to realise that supressing demand using scare tactics does not work in practice. The black market is flourishing – unfortunately with all the adverse side effects that go hand in hand with this, from lethal additions mixed in to substances, to the cross-financing of further criminal machinations.

Yet we are faced here with a real dilemma: laws are more than just instructions and bans – they also show how we envisage our shared existence should be and what rights or groups, for example, we perceive to be worthy of particular protection. It goes without saying that we do not want to communicate to young people and children in particular that consuming cannabis is entirely harmless. Yet perhaps we should reconsider our approach. Instead of telling young adults that they are criminals, we would do better to enter into a constructive dialog with potential and actual users as part of a much-improved – and above all, better financed – programme of prevention.

A state-regulated market for cannabis could harness two central elements of our drug policy – its focus and investment in it – for greater effect in pursuing its actual objectives: first, regulation would lift the proxy ban on demand and pull the rug out directly from underneath the black market’s feet. There are no forbidden deals in niche markets if the activity is legal. Secondly, examples of successful liberalisation and regulation in other countries show that we could finance an actual, comprehensive and high-quality programme of prevention with expected tax revenues of potentially up to two billion euros a year – with similarly high savings from reduced prosecution on top of this. Education is generally more effective than repression. Here, too, we believe in the power of freedom.

There is also an urgent need for clarity from a medical perspective: patients who need cannabis to treat chronic pain can already buy medicinal cannabis products from the chemist, yet they pay for these out of their own pockets. If, in light of the considerable costs, they decide to grow their own plants, they risk investigative proceedings. The Federal Government has already announced its plans to initiate legislation governing the reimbursement of the costs by the health insurance funds this year. Yet patients growing their own would remain in a legal grey area. In 2014 the Administrative Court in Cologne allowed three patients with chronic pain to grow cannabis in their homes as a “makeshift solution”. Clarity from policy-makers is essential here.

Incidentally, the Italian parliament is also contemplating carefully legalising and regulating the sale of cannabis. Even if the chances of this taking off are not very high at present, support for the cause has already been expressed by the DNA – Italy’s National Anti-Mafia Board, who recently called for the “complete failure of repressive measures to be recognised”.