Policy Options for Drug Control with Reference to Trade and Consumption in Germany and Europe

Prof. Heino Stöver and me, Maximilian Plenert, wrote the study „Policy Options for Drug Control with Reference to Trade and Consumption in Germany and Europe“ on behalf of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a „German political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)“ in 2013. The foundation merge our text with some similar documents into „From Repression to Regulation: Proposals for Drug Policy Reform“ and published it in German, Englisch and Spain. You can find our study on page 292 – 392 of the Englisch version.

Here is our introduction and the outline:


Forty years of the Narcotics Act in Germany, 50 years of the Narcotics Control Convention and over 100 years of attempts at global drug control form the framework for the investigation of the present report on alternative policy options for reform of drug control legislation.

Questions are increasingly being raised concerning the goals, intended and unintended health, social and legal policy consequences and the economic effects, ethical questions and, finally, the purpose of prohibition. In the face of the escalating drug war in Mexico (Heufelder, 2011; Siebert, 2011), in other Latin American states and large parts of South America (Weber, 2011; Lessmann, 2012; Villar and Cottle, 2012) and Asia (Lingens, 2011) the drug-induced geopolitical shifts, the death penalty for drug possession/dealing still imposed throughout the world (Gallahue, 2011) and the rising level of armed response in the “war against drugs” the usefulness of violent confrontation is increasingly being called into question. Many initiatives, alliances, parties and prominent figures (Nobel Prize winners and current or former state presidents) throughout the world are demanding drug control models that do not follow the criminal law approach and point to the different kinds of harm done by the current largely repressive drug policy (Declaration Conjunta sobre Crimen Organizado y Narcotráfico, 2011; Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011), on one hand, in relation to individual drug users and the erosion of the credibility of all preventive efforts with regard to the ambiguous partial prohibition. On the other hand, societal values are coming under threat: restrictions are being imposed on freedom that are out of all reasonable proportion to the intended aims of the drug ban. We should therefore begin to handle the drug problem from a health policy rather than a criminal policy standpoint. The question is thus: can we still afford this drug policy – in every sense – and if we cannot: what are the chances of a drug-policy change at national and international level; in what direction should it be taken; and how could it be introduced and implemented?

The debate on reforming national and international drug control is thus is full swing. The statement made by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina at the beginning of February 2012 represents a milestone in the reform debate. He declared the war against the transnational drug cartels a failure and thus was the first sitting head of state to open up a new debate on the possible legalisation of psychoactive substances produced, processed and transported in South and Central America. Molina pointedly did not confine his attack to the (private) consumption of illegal drugs, but opened the debate in relation to its production and trade or transport. The “Drugs and Democracy” initiative, founded by three Latin American presidents, and the expanded Commission on Drugs and Democracy had already called for modifications in international drug policy, including exemption from punishment or decriminalisation of the personal consumption of illegal drugs and the categorisation of substance addictions as a public health problem. Furthermore, the commissions called for the revision of the international drug regime and repressive policies against production and trade of illegal drugs through application of the criterion of harm reduction, not only in relation to production, trade and consumption, but also in relation to the (negative) effects of the current policies for reducing production and consumption.

None of the abovementioned initiatives made concrete policy proposals, however. The United States immediately declared that it was opposed to any form of legalisation without entirely ruling out a debate. Various Central and South American governments at first made positive noises about President Pérez Molina’s initiative, but Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras stayed away from a summit meeting of Central American presidents on the issue. This reflects the economic and financial consequences for these countries if states or regions try to go it alone in drug policy. The effectiveness of unilateral legislation in relation to legalisation or state regulation should receive particular attention in dealing with this point. Bilateral relations with the United States are of key significance in this respect. An additional problem is the international drug regime.


To begin with, a number of concepts are explained and the frame of analysis presented. With regard to alternative courses of action there are few differences between substances. In the case of more complex issues of regulation relevance and data availability limit our choice. The debate will thus focus on the drug cannabis and its consumers.

We shall dispense with a presentation of individual substances, their effects and the associated risks since these are largely known (Schmidbauer, 1997; Julien, 1997; Nutt, 2012). More decisive is the question concerning the origins of the risks or generally drug-specific ranges of problems, as well as how society deals with them (see, for example, on cannabis: Kleiber/Soellner, 1998, 2004; Kleiber/Kovar, 1998; Grotenhermen, 2006; Krumdiek, 2006; Wurth, 2008; Kolte, 2006).

In the sections on the status quo the “drug problem” is analysed not only as a direct consequence of the individual problem of drug consumption, but also as a consequence of the dominant repressive and prohibition-oriented drug policy.

In the absence of a generally valid schema for looking at the drug phenomenon the selection of issues to be tackled, alongside some figures and the findings of David Nutt on the measurement of the dangers of drugs, concentrates on points relevant to the policy options presented below regarding drug control with reference to trade and consumption in Germany.

An analysis of the status quo also entails consideration of current drug policy and public opinion. This is followed by a look at global drug policy, its intended and unintended side effects and, by way of examples, some selected geopolitical settings.

In the following section, which forms the empirical foundation of the subsequent consideration of different scenarios, experiences from alternative policy approaches that have been put into practice in Europe are presented. We show, using the examples of the Netherlands, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Spain and Belgium that the effects of other cannabis or drug policies are known and research is available that enables us to examine the details. The legalisation of cannabis in the United States is not dealt with here because no research data are available concerning the effects.

Practical experiences and the achievements of drug policy pioneers from the Swiss Eidgenössische Kommission für Drogenfragen (EKDF) are addressed in the section on the normative basis of this work. The legalisation of coca in Bolivia and the resulting conflict with international law are mentioned in section 5.

Extensive experience is available on the medically controlled handling of opiates – for example, heroin – from Switzerland, the Netherlands and also Germany but they are not examined in detail here. Drug control with reference to dealing and consumption means something entirely different here than in relation to cannabis, however. The conditions of consumption and the non-commercial but medically controlled distribution of opiates or substitution substances are the focus here.

Before, finally, the specific courses of action are presented we look at the legal framework for control models in Germany. This includes the limits of national policy due to international treaties and their significance for the purchasing of drugs.

A normative foundation is presented for the evaluation of the scenarios. We attempt, based on a simple framework of theses, to develop a theoretical model on which a consensus can be achieved for dealing with drugs.

The following courses of action are discussed individually:

  •  three scenarios for all drugs;
  •  four scenarios based only on cannabis;
  •  a scenario that warns against defective regulation, as in the case of alcohol and tobacco;
  • reflections on the need for further action.

On the basis of empirical findings from other countries the effects of the individual scenarios are relatively well described. There is systematic evaluation of the effects on the individual areas of the status quo. This core of the work concentrates on issues of the market and of criminal law. It is supplemented by a section on prevention, support and therapy.

Finally, recommendations are made for specific, realistic first steps and pointers are given for resolving the logjam in drug policy.

Spelling: Please note that both sexes are implied unless specified otherwise.