Newsbrief: Berlin on Verge of Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession 3/19/04

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The city assembly in Berlin, Germany's largest city, is moving to decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana or hashish, Expatica.com, a web site devoted to covering European news for American expatriates, reported Monday. The assembly is "bowing to reality" in a city where cannabis use is common, Expatica said.

Legislation that would permit possession of up to 15 grams is supported by an "overwhelming majority" of assembly members, the web site reported. The bill, which was spearheaded by civil libertarians within the Free Democratic Party, also has the support of the city's majority coalition of left-leaning Social Democrats and Greens, as well as the support of the Socialist Party, a rump remnant of the former East German Communist Party.

"The ban was based on a drug policy which has failed utterly," Free Democrat City Senator Martin Lindner, who introduced the bill, told Expatica. " We are not trying to play down this drug," he adds, "but are simply striving to attain a more realistic approach to this drug."

The web site noted that Berlin is a city where beer is available for sale almost everywhere, from fast-food restaurants to movie theaters to autobahn gas station to newsstands, and cigarette consumption is still high by American standards. Getting high on pot is increasingly socially acceptable in a city so relaxed about other drug use, Expatica suggested, reporting that "there is hardly a club or disco, a cafe or gallery opening where with-it Berliners are not smoking joints. And that is just the public aspect of the drug which is clearly obvious to all. Pot consumption at private parties is ubiquitous."

And the police can't keep up, officials told the newspaper Berliner Zeitung. "We'd need 1,000 additional officers just to begin to clamp down on the cannabis trade," one drug-enforcement agent said, according to Expatica's translation. Because there is little likelihood of funding increases for cannabis enforcement in Berlin's political climate, police have essentially given up on prosecuting people for growing their own marijuana, he added. "It's not worth it," the investigator told the paper. "We only roll if we get a tip-off to a really big-time pot plantation. But we don't go out looking through people's back gardens any more on the off chance of finding a marijuana seedling."

If the Berlin assembly does approve the bill, it will create a contradiction between city policy and national policy, which still considers cannabis illegal, and heighten the pressure to resolve that contradiction.

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