German parliamentary elections took place on Sunday, yielding a major victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, along with a historic defeat for her coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party.
The defeat of the FDP is remarkable in itself. Only four years after achieving a record high of 14.6% of the vote, the party failed on Sunday to secure even 5%. Not only is this the worst election result in the party’s history, but having fallen under the minimum of 5%, they are by law completely excluded from parliament.
The CDU/CSU, by contrast, garnered a full 42% of votes cast, their best result since German unification in 1990. This result translates into close to a majority of actual seats in parliament, considering that parties with less than 5% are excluded. The newly founded Alternative for Germany, running on an anti-Euro platform, barely failed to reach the 5% threshold. The CDU/CSU won 311 seats in parliament, while the center-left Social Democrats won 192, the Greens 63 and the Left Party 64. These results are not good in terms of their implications for drug policy in Germany.
The FDP is the closest the German parliament has had to a libertarian party, based on both their economic policy and their concern for civil liberties. Their website contains a paraphrasing of the popular quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin: whoever gives up liberty for security will ultimately lose both. The saying appears in a section characterizing several anti-terror measures enacted since September 11th, 2001 as unconstitutional, and warning against the attitude that the general population are to be treated as suspects. The party also expresses concern over data security, and particularly the US domestic and international surveillance program PRISM.
Neither the FDP nor the CDU, though, nor the opposition SDP, seem to take drug policy seriously. Despite some support from the issue among the youth wing of the FDP, none of the three even list it as an issue on their websites. This is particularly disappointing for the FDP; often characterized as a “pro-business” and “free-market” party, they do not seem seriously concerned with whether some of the world’s most profitable industries are relegated to the black market. The CDU mocks legalization of cannabis, complaining that the Green Party want the population to be “paying taxes for drugs” and driving under their influence. All three, CDU/CSU, FDP, and SPD, voted against a marijuana legalization measure introduced earlier this year in parliament.
Although strict drug prohibition laws remain on the books in Germany, they are not enforced with the same zeal as in the United States. Prosecutors have discretion to drop cases involving possession of cannabis for personal use below a certain threshhold which varies from state to state. They are obligated by a 1994 Constitutional Court ruling to do so for all drugs with undefined “small” amounts, whenever there are no aggravating circumstances.
Those who are prosecuted for possession, regarding cannabis or other drugs, can get away with small fines despite the threat of up to four years in prison according to the law. This in line with a trend toward more tolerance of such offenses in Europe in general. One prosecutor in Berlin explains that he could imagine a legalized supply system for drugs in Germany, but that there is simply no political pressure in that direction.
The issue is not exactly a fringe concern, however. One recent poll suggests 25% of Germans support legalizing marijuana, while 50% support “a liberal approach with regard to cannabis consumers.” Further, three of the smaller parties openly support reform. This is not to suggest that the remainder of their policies are libertarian, particularly in the case of the the bluntly named Left party, which aims at the abolition of capitalism. Representation of serious reform on the issue in parliament, though, is an encouraging sign.
The Pirate Party offers a detailed drug policy platform.1 The party supports decriminalization of both personal drug possession and production or cultivation for personal use, and the establishment of legal systems of supply as a replacement for the current regime of prohibition. Also included in the platform are the introduction of more realistic drug education programs, along with the less libertarian proposal for a prohibition on advertising for potentially addictive substances. Unfortunately, the Pirates were only able to garner 2.3% of votes, so they remain unrepresented in parliament.
The Green Party’s website openly endorses the removal of penalties for users of all illegal drugs, as well as legalization of cannabis, including private cultivation and a licensed system of distribution.2 The party’s platform3 for this year seems to go farther; it calls for the replacement of the “failed prohibition policy” with the “regulation of all—even thus far illegal—drugs.”4 Like that of the Pirates, the platform also calls for a ban on public advertising of such drugs, as well as for improved drug education. The Greens, though, now have only about 8% of seats in parliament, which is a drop of approximately 2.6%.
The Left Party introduced the cannabis legalization measure already mentioned, and unambiguously call for the legalization of all drugs as a long term goal.5 More modest reforms are also supported, such as the decriminalization of drug consumption and drug consumers, as well as the medical provision of heroin to heroin addicts. Their position statement points out that in the area of illicit drugs, 84% of public expenditures are directed towards law enforcement. The Left’s representation in parliament only beats that of the Greens by a fraction of a percentage point, though, and represents a 3.5% loss from their previous status.
Although the excesses of the “War on Drugs” are not as drastic in Germany as in the United States, the current policies still essentially give control of extremely lucrative markets to organized crime. Further, the country spends €3.7 to €4.6 billion ($4.8 to $6 billion) in its fruitless attempts to suppress illicit drugs. Cannabis use rates are nevertheless not significantly lower there than in the Netherlands, where the drug is in practice essentially legal. Indeed, illicit drug use rates across countries are often unrelated to the harshness of the laws ostensibly controlling them. This should serve as a strong hint to the major parties to reconsider their policies.
Image credit to rt.com.
1. See the English version here.
2. The English version clearly supports decriminalizing drug use itself, but is not clearly supportive of legalizing the trade in marijuana or any other drug.
3. See page 130.
4. Translated from the German.
5. The English version is here; see page 44, although the relatively long English summary of issues posted on the website avoids the issue.