Why is cannabis the only thing greens are liberal about?

Germany’s Green Party wants to ban everything – except weed.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
Germany Correspondent

Topics Politics World

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Last week, Germany became the largest European country to legalise the possession of cannabis. Adults are now allowed to carry up to 25 grams of the drug, keep a stock of up to 50 grams in their homes and cultivate up to three marijuana plants a year. To celebrate, thousands of Germans gathered at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on the night of 1 April for a ‘smoke-in’.

For the increasingly unpopular coalition government, led by the Social Democrats, this new law is a real boon. Cannabis legalisation has been a long-standing demand of both the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party, which form two-thirds of the government. Internal disputes over support for Ukraine and social-security funding have worsened in recent months, but all three parties broadly agree on cannabis legalisation. As such, the government has been able to present itself in a rare mood of harmony.

Not everyone is happy, of course. The conservative opposition, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has fought legalisation at every turn, denying marijuana’s positive health benefits and emphasising the threat it supposedly poses to young people. Boris Rhein, the Christian Democrat minister-president of Hesse, called the law ‘completely irresponsible’ and a ‘catastrophe’ for Germany. Others from the CDU even urged German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier to reject the legislation when it reached his desk. Of course this flippant, undemocratic request was never going to be heeded. Still, the enthusiasm with which the new law has been celebrated, and the hysterical posturing of the opposition in response, shows that there is something at stake here.

For one thing, many have criticised the way in which the Greens have used this new law to paint themselves as the truly ‘liberal’ party. This claim reeks of hypocrisy, given that they have supported a variety of patently illiberal restrictions over the years. In 2013, they called for mandatory ‘veggie days’ in office canteens, which sparked outrage among Germany’s many meat lovers. The Green Party has also called for an end to cheap holiday flights, a ban on gas boilers and the prohibition of fireworks at New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Greens are no doubt ‘liberal’ when it comes to the things they like, such as gender self-identification and cannabis. But they vehemently fight to prohibit things they deem problematic. It’s no wonder that the Greens have earned themselves the title of ‘Verbotspartei’ – the ‘prohibition party’.

The hypocrisy of the German Greens doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, Green agriculture minister Cem Özdemir campaigned for a new meat tax, as well as restrictions on advertisements for sugary, salty or fatty foods. Picking up on the Greens’ inconsistent stance, Bavarian premier Markus Söder, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, told Bild that ‘it is absurd to ban meat and sausage in daycare centres and advertising for sweets, but at the same time allow cannabis’. His voters, who tend to prefer a good beer to smoking dope, will probably agree with him.

For the Greens, however, there is no contradiction in their wildly different approaches to marijuana and meat. In their view, the lines separating right and wrong are clearly demarcated. Cannabis has made it over to the ‘right’ side, because it is consumed by peaceniks, intellectuals and students. Beer, however, is viewed as the drug of unruly proletarians and football hooligans. The Greens seem to believe that it’s the ‘wrong’ kind of drug, much in the same way that they irrationally insist that cows are destroying the planet and that beef is a threat to the natural world.

Even the Greens recognise that they can’t keep threatening bans forever. In many ways, cannabis legalisation offers a convenient way to rehabilitate their image without causing too much controversy. After all, marijuana use is now relatively socially accepted in Germany. As one sociologist explains, its use has been widespread since the early 1970s, with millions of Germans smoking it at least occasionally. Perhaps the Greens are hoping to kick their reputation as the ‘prohibition party’.

It is all the more ironic, then, that the new law comes with a comical list of caveats. Cannabis consumption is not permitted ‘in the immediate vicinity of people under 18 years of age’. Smokers will have to keep a distance of at least 100 metres from schools, children’s facilities and playgrounds. And consumption is banned in ‘pedestrianised areas from 7am to 8pm’. Before lighting up, smokers will have to carefully check the time and scrutinise their surroundings, lest any young person might be in sight.

What’s more, the policing of marijuana possession and selling has in some ways become stricter. The minimum prison sentence for anyone selling the drug to minors has increased from one year to two years, with suspended sentences now out of the question. And to ensure that the 25g possession limit is respected, the police will be equipped with especially sensitive scales.

For those of us who think that legalising cannabis is the right thing to do, this new law is good news. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the Greens are acting out of a liberal impulse. Like much of the liberal-left, these people want to ban everything – except weed. What a hollow liberalism.

Sabine Beppler-Spahl is spiked’s Germany correspondent.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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