by Micha on 28/12/2016 | Legal & Politics

Berlin wants coffeeshops – will the second attempt be successful?

Pilot project In Germany, following on from Bremen, Berlin has now decided to relax what is in any case its relatively liberal cannabis policy, compared to the national policy, making it the second federal state within six months to do so. Politicians would at last like to regulate trade in cases of possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis, which involves merely a written warning and no fine.


As part of the coalition talks in the federal capital, the SPD, The Left and The Green Party have agreed on a coffeeshop pilot project and the immediate cessation of the zero tolerance policy in Görlitzer Park. However, an application for the pilot project for the sale of cannabis to adults must in the first instance be made to the Federal Ministry of Health. The wording and draft of the proposal will take some time and it is highly uncertain whether a really swift decision will be made. With elections pending in Germany in 2017, the ministerial decision will also depend on which parties are set to make up the new government in autumn of 2017 and who will be in the health ministry.

Berlin wants coffeeshops – will the second attempt be successful?

Zero tolerance yields zero success

The drug policy characterised by zero tolerance zones advocated by CDU Senator of the Interior Henkel from the previous Berlin government has clearly failed; even the conservative faction in Berlin no longer has its doubts. Since the introduction of tighter controls in Görlitzer Park, the drugs trade has spilled over into half the district. People are now constantly hassled to buy cannabis or other illegal substances across an area extending nearly three kilometres between Revaler Straße and Spreewaldplatz. Dealers mainly operate in twos. The tout normally does not carry any drugs but leads the potential buyer to the dealer who is waiting outside his drug bunker a few blocks away on some back street or next to a playground. Refuse bins, construction zones and other publicly accessible concealed areas can be used as bunkers.

Last but not least, the prevention campaign was deployed “too broadly” in schools, and tended to generate amusement among students. The costly campaign failed to alter consumption by young people in Berlin however, and cannabis is increasing in popularity amongst the youth of Berlin.

Four parties touting for votes with (or without) cannabis

During the election campaign, virtually every party latched onto the topic of cannabis – a hot potato for the first time ever in the campaign. The Left Party and The Green Party wanted to attract votes with coffeeshops and decriminalisation of home-grown cannabis, whilst the conservative CDU devised the slogan “Cannabis legalisation an imminent threat” in order to portray an irrational horror scenario should liberalisation be implemented. The CDU received scorn and derision for this on Facebook and was also punished by the electorate. With 17% of the vote, Germany’s largest party is no longer what is commonly referred to as the popular or people’s party in Berlin. Also, there is no imminent threat to legalise cannabis: at most, trials will be conducted to see if and how such a move could function without preconceived notions as to the result.

Cannabis as contentious issue in coalition talks

During the coalition talks, the government-elect comprised of SPD, The Left Party and The Green Party held such heated discussions about cannabis that the meetings were even interrupted on one occasion. Whilst The Left Party and The Green Party called for the coffeeshop pilot project, the decriminalisation of small growers and a relaxation of the extremely strict interpretation of the Driver Licensing Decree, the SPD simply wanted to see an end to zero tolerance at the cannabis hot spots. The social democrats were concerned because their members had voted narrowly against legalisation by the Berlin SPD in the summer of 2015. However, it is only the specially created members’ survey that demonstrates the role cannabis currently plays in the political arena in the capital.

Before the application can be made, the SPD and Green Party executives must accept the coalition agreement and The Left Party actually requires a majority approval from its Berlin members.

What specifically has been decided?

According to the recently published version of the coalition agreement:

“In terms of health policy and preventative measures, the classification of cannabis consumption as a criminal offence has proven to be a failure. The coalition will abolish the so-called zero tolerance zones for possession of cannabis in the city. The coalition will devise a concept for the implementation of a scientifically supported pilot project for the controlled supply of cannabis to adults and advocate protection therefor in law. The options for treatments using cannabis products, particularly for pain sufferers, must be expanded further.”

This concerns Berlin as a whole and not just Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg

In Berlin there had already been one attempt to set up a coffeeshop pilot project in the trendy Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg borough. The venture hit the headlines across the globe, but was finally rejected last year. The current endeavour concerns the entire metropolis of Berlin, with its population of four million, and not only has the support of many districts but also that of the newly elected provincial government. A coffeeshop pilot project would, therefore, not involve just one or two shops acting as a model in Kreuzberg. Rather, it would enable state-controlled dispensing outlets to be established in every area of the city.

What about today?

As soon as the executive boards or the rank and file of the individual parties have approved the proposal, the new government must draft a motion for a controlled cannabis supply and send it to the Federal Ministry of Health. But this ministry is currently in the hands of the CDU and they have already rejected a similar request from Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain. However, new elections in the autumn of 2017 and a second city-state with similar ambitions increase the chances of the motion substantially. In April 2016, Bremen had already decided to implement a state-wide pilot project and even with support from the SPD announced its intent to decriminalise the possession of up to three cannabis plants for personal use. The criteria for the interpretation of the Driver Licensing Decree are soon set to be eased in the Hanseatic city too. It is currently being discussed whether in future the consumer will face consequences for having three nanograms of THC instead of just one nanogram, as is currently the case.

The highly successful distribution of heroin to severe addicts programme in Germany was only possible after several German cities had joined forces to implement such pilot projects. If Bremen and Berlin, both federal states, and individual cities such as Münster, decide to draft and put forward their motion for cannabis shops, there might actually be a limited number of model coffeeshops in place from 2018 or 2019. These shops would be accompanied by scientific studies on consumer behaviour and other consequences of having a regulated market.

When the new law covering the use of medicinal cannabis then comes into operation in the spring of 2017, a sudden increase in patient numbers is expected. If, in 2017, the first cultivation licences for production of medicinal cannabis in Germany are awarded as announced, the Berlin and Bremen shops could offer locally grown cannabis – 100% legal and even of pharmacy quality.

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