The German Federal Constitutional Court in 1989. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Collage by the author
Last week, 122 German law professors signed a petition demanding the decriminalization of drugs and the legalization of marijuana. The current anti-drug legislation was written in 1981 and is badly outdated, the professors say—though locking people up for marijuana is no longer a priority for cops, the petition's signatories think that there's still too much time being spent charging drug users with crimes.
To find out exactly what they hope their petition will achieve, I called up the man behind the initiative, Professor Lorenz Böllinger from the University of Bremen.
VICE: What are you aiming to do with this petition?
Lorenz Böllinger: This is an attempt to basically make Parliament function again. Constitutionally, laws must actually be scientifically justified, and they must be checked and updated regurlarly. That is our objective, regardless of whether drugs are dangerous or not. It's more a question of whether criminal law is capable of anything.
How do you mean?
Well, there is no way [US President Richard] Nixon's war on drugs can be won. Drug use goes on regardless of crime enforcement. We have seen all sorts of studies, and the result is always the same: that business cycles of drug use exist entirely independently of statutory provisions.
So you're saying that drugs will always be used.
Drugs have always existed, and the longing for this kind of pleasure will always exist. You can't question or argue with that statement.
Have you ever smoked cannabis?
I'm 68, and have smoked cannabis. I remember the good and bad parts of it very well.
Are you aiming for full legalization?
Yes, but not in a generalized way that will have us all buying drugs at [the supermarket] soon. The idea is to get our point accross on the basis of expertise—with studies on specific regulatory models for each drug. For the least dangerous ones, like cannabis, we would [want to make it essentially legal], perhaps ensuring there were quantity limits or a registration process. When it comes to heroin or crystal meth, we would have to follow a stricter model.
Lorenz Böllinger. Photo courtesy of the University of Bremen
Are you not worried that more people will use drugs?
There is good evidence that this is not the case. In countries like Portugal, Spain, and Belgium this model has existed for ten years. In the Netherlands, cannabis has been freely available for 40 years with excellent results. Consumption hasn't increased—on the contrary, it has slightly decreased.
Your petition has now been signed by over 100 experts. Why did it take so long for anyone to take the initiative like this?
That's a good question. My thesis is that nobody dares question politicians. At the same time, drug laws present an effective means to maintain certain monitoring and control functions.
Is our society ready for legalization?
We have been brainwashed by the media and politicians for the past 40 years. Individual problem cases are massively blown out of proportion and context. Drug-related deaths, for example—these are always attributed to drugs, when the reason behind them is actually the anti-drug laws. Drug-related deaths are almost in their entirety caused by the unpredictability of the ingredients. If these drugs were prescribed, this wouldn't happen.
I am a professional psychoanalyst too, and have worked with heroin and cannabis addicts, and I can safely say none of their problems come from drugs. These are psychological and social problems that make people dependent.
Have you ever talked to Marlene Mortler, the Drug Commissioner of the Federal Government?
No, but I have sent her the petition. I don't expect an answer from her.
What would you say to her if you ever met her?
I can only laugh about it, really. She was appointed Drug Commisioner this January but she's really only worked on agriculture and tourism. This is basically a statement on how much the government cares about making reforms in that field. They only want peace on this front.
Can your petition change that?
I believe that it is in our hands to draw attention to the issue. But it will bring nothing, politically. The majority will simply vote against the reforms.