As the U.S. continues to have battle over battle about marijuana use – recreational, medical, drug tests, rescheduling, and the like, a different kind of reform is quietly underway across the Atlantic… We are talking about the German Marijuana Reform.
Germany, the country made famous for linking schizophrenia to pot use is about to undergo a quiet revolution. Next year, in early 2017, the German government is set to reschedule the drug. Even more amazingly, desperately sick Germans will also be able to have their cannabis use covered by health insurance.
In very simple, direct, German terms, “all” it will take for a patient to get medical cannabis is
- Suffering from a qualifying condition
- Getting a doctor to write the prescription
- Dropping off the same in the local “apotheke” – or pharmacy.
There will also be no extra delay over licensing, placing dispensaries next to schools, or the like.
In a coverage model that most Americans can’t even fathom, the sickest patients (as they already do) can have the cost of their taxi ride to and from the pharmacy picked up by their health insurance too. And the taxi driver is also a regulated, regular employee. Uber has been banned in every German city.
Is German Marijuana Heaven?
It’s not like Germany all of a sudden will become the next medical Amsterdam or Denver. The country has been in the slow, quiet, determinative path of legalization for at least a decade. It is still hard to be a cannabis patient here. Until German marijuana reform happens sometime next year, it is very expensive to get the drug (because it is imported). Two years ago, the government began to allow poor sick patients who could not afford to legally buy medical cannabis to begin to grow their own.
The process of finding a doctor who will prescribe the drug is also complicated. First of all, doctors cannot advertise, as they do in America. So locating a doctor to help and prescribe you the medicine may be a challenge.
There is still a healthy scepticism here in German marijuana’s medical community about the efficacy of medical marijuana which is likely to persist even after the government changes the scheduling of cannabis.
Secondly, until the country begins growing the plant in-country, supposedly in the next couple of years, supply will also be hard to come by. In a pinch, as they do now, existing and new patients will have to make do with synthetics (like dronabinol), although this year the government began making more cannabis available to users by beginning imports from Canada.
At Patient’s Risk
There is also no widespread drug testing here, so patients who are sick enough to take the drug and still have jobs do not face either job loss via urine tests or the kind of stigma that American patients still face. The existence of a good public transportation system also means that users don’t have to drive – they can take the bus, strassenbahn (street train) or underground in most cities.
The first reason that Germany’s planned changes are significant is because the drug will become “just another” Schedule III drug.
While there is still a debate about registration of users (and via what means), the fact is that cannabis is being mainstreamed here faster and more effectively than it is in any country (with the possible exception of Canada).
The Germans also may be sceptical about cannabis and there is still a certain amount of stigma here about any kind of use, but the atmosphere is nothing like it is in the U.S. The drug war was never a hard-fought battle here. And in an age of open borders, most students and recreational users who don’t want to buy low-grade street hash just plan visits to Holland, a mere two to three-hour train ride away and over an open border.
Why Are Cannabis Advocates Still Frustrated?
No country is perfect, and there are those who have advocated for reform who still are frustrated with the fact that Germany, in planning for full medical integration of the drug, is also pushing recreational reform down the road by at least three to four years.
That said, once the drug is rescheduled, people who decide to grow their own for recreational purposes are effectively beyond any kind of mild prosecution – not that the police really make busting small growers now a major priority. In fact, in the northern town of Bremen, the city government has just legalized small amounts of recreational home grow in an attempt to move the federal government to allow regulation of a recreational industry.
In general, the fact is that cannabis – whether for medical or recreational use – is just not that big a deal here – if handled with typical German moderation and kept private.
What medical legalization next year does mean, however, is that for every other country, starting with the U.S., who has resisted rescheduling cannabis, the time is now running short for pretending that the drug has no medical efficacy. If the Germans recognize the medicinal properties of cannabis, not to mention its low risk to the point of rescheduling it and covering it under national health insurance, other countries cannot hold out much longer without following a suit.
No fuss, No muss
That said, cannabis reform has always been a kinder, gentler proposition to begin with here – and now with reform on the horizon, things are changing fairly fast – certainly for medical users. In fact, in a situation which is still light years away in the United States, African American talk show host Montel Williams was stopped on his way through Frankfurt airport for cannabis possession this summer.
However, when he proved he was using it for medical reasons – problem solved, no fuss, no muss. Authorities just let him go on his way.