Germany legalises possession of 'soft' drugs

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The Independent Online
BONN - 'We say no]' declared the front-page headline in Bild, Germany's biggest-selling daily, yesterday. Inside, it published a photograph of a woman lying dead as a result of a heroin overdose, with the headline: 'She too began with hashish]'

The protests were sparked by a ruling by the country's highest court that possession of small quantities of hashish or marijuana should no longer be a punishable offence, writes Steve Crawshaw.

The Bavarian Interior Minister, Gunther Beckstein, complained that the decision by the constitutional court in Karlsruhe would make it easier for the 'insidious' drug to become available. But other politicians, from both the ruling Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats, approved the ruling.

However, the judges said there could be no Recht auf Rausch - approximately, 'right to get high' - and that dealing and import for sale should still be punishable. At present, around 30,000 drug offences are investigated every year, but many are dropped before reaching the courts. Those in favour of a change in the law argued thatit would enable police to concentrate more efforts and resources on drug trafficking.

A number of German states already permit the small-scale possession of 'soft' drugs, but the ruling requires nationwide compliance - though it is unclear how 'small quantities' will be defined.

The constitutional-court ruling arose from a judgment in the northern town of Lubeck, where the ban on cannabis was provisionally declared by a lower court to be a violation of citizen's equal rights, since the use of tobacco and alcohol is legal. The higher court rejected that line of argument, saying that tobacco and alcohol are part of German tradition.

The court judgment came as the latest drug statistics showed that the quantities seized in the first quarter of 1994 was considerably up on the same period last year.

At the same time, the Foreign Ministry has warned German tourists not to purchase or carry drugs abroad, because of the danger of severe punishment.

The top anti-drugs official in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre- right government criticised the court's implicit view that hashish and marijuana were safer than cocaine and heroin. 'Making a distinction between soft and hard drugs is the wrong way to go,' the Interior Ministry state secretary, Eduard Lintner, told Bild.

The government estimates that up to eight million Germans - or one-tenth of the population - use hashish and marijuana.