On September 24th, Germans elected a new parliament. The CDU/CSU won 32.9%, the SPD 20.5%, the AfD 12.6%, the FDP 10.7%, the Green Party 8.9%, Die Linke 9.2%. This outcome, resulting in the presence of six parties in the Bundestag, will complicate the formation of a new governing coalition.
The right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) will enter the German Bundestag for the first time, but is politically shunned by other parties. Die Linke is ideologically too far removed from the Conservatives to ever govern with them. The once proud and mighty German Social Democrats (SPD) have been humbled by the election. In consequence, the Social Democrats have announced their intention to go into opposition. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), while substantially weakened, remain Germany’s strongest political force, which all but guarantees that she will remain chancellor. However, with the SPD out of the picture, she will depend on two smaller parties, the Liberal Democrats (FDP) and Green Party (Die Grünen) to form a governing coalition to hold onto power.
Such a coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP and Green Party is known as Jamaica Coalition because of the parties’ colours – black, yellow and green – which can also be found in the Jamaican flag. This would be the first instance of this particular combination of parties governing together on the national level. At first glance, there appear to be vast ideological and political difference between these parties. However, as examples of coalitions of CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP in different federal states (Bundesländer) have shown, it is not impossible for these parties to work together. With other combinations all but impossible, a Jamaica coalition is the most probable coalition being formed after the negotiations taking place right now.
Pundits and politicians alike have been consumed by the challenges, problems, opportunities and implications of forming such a coalition. This article looks at one specific topic in detail: the implications of a likely “Jamaica coalition” for the prospects of advancing cannabis legalisation in Germany.
A review of party platforms indicates that the probable presence of FDP and Green party in government means that two parties explicitly in favour of cannabis legalisation would be part of the government. While both Volksparteien have been opposed to cannabis liberalisation, and stay silent on the issue in their party programs,[i] the smaller parties are a more outspoken on the issue, with Die Grünen, FDP and Die Linke supporting cannabis liberalisation and the AfD fervently opposing it.[ii]
Under the headline of “acceptance and respect, pluralism and self-determination,” the Green Party’s platform calls for a paradigm change in drug policy. In their view, cannabis prohibition “creates more problems, than it is solving” and this “senseless” punitive approach costs “millions of Euros.” The Greens’ solution is “creating clear rules instead of criminalisation.” They propose a Cannabiskontrollgesetz which legally regulates the substance’s production and sale.[iii] This would guarantee quality controls, improve prevention and education and age restrictions, by allowing the sale of up to 30g by specifically licensed and taxed dispensaries and the cultivation of up to 3 plants per person for personal consumption. The benefits of such a system would be to “dry up illegal black markets,” reduce the burden on law enforcement and use the cannabis tax to finance drug prevention, education and rehabilitation. One of the Green party’s leaders, Cem Özdemir, has called prohibition a “resounding failure.”
The Liberal Democrats demand the controlled liberalisation of cannabis in their electoral platform. Under the status quo prohibition of cannabis, “countless people are being criminalised and immense resources expanded” and the necessity to be supplied by illegal dealers “facilitates the onset of consumption of harder drugs.” They propose fully allowing possession and consumption and “controlled sales in licensed businesses.” Regulated and taxed legal sales would guarantee quality control and that those underage cannot access the substance. Tax revenue would be used for drug prevention, treatment and counselling (p.91). During the electoral campaign, the party’s leader Christian Lindner stated: “legally selling cannabis in pharmacies, why not? FDP would be on board.”
What, then, does a probable Jamaica coalition mean for possible future cannabis legalisation in Germany? There is good reason to believe that, despite the FDP and Green Party coming out in favour of reforms, that cannabis legalisation will not advance under the Jamaican banner flying over Germany.
Much will depend on the negotiations between the three potential coalition partners and their willingness to address the issue. First, the CSU’s leader Horst Seehofer has already announced his intention to “shore up the party’s right flank.” The CSU officially opposes any kind of cannabis liberalisation in its Bayernplan: “Zero tolerance for drugs. We say no to the legalisation of cannabis” (p.5).[iv] Second, it is uncertain if either Greens or FDP are willing to make this the hill to die on and spent their limited political capital as junior partners on this issue. Historical precedents suggest that cannabis reform may fall off wayside in the Koalitionsverhandlungen.[v] Finally, where Angela Merkel stands on the issue is highly important. When asked if there would be further liberalisation of cannabis in Germany after the election, she stated: “I am not in favour of it… I intend no changes.”
These negotiations are occurring in a context that does not bode well for cannabis reforms. First, while public opinion polling on the question of cannabis legalisation has been all over the place on the question, the most reliable results suggests that a slim majority of Germans opposes cannabis legalisation.[vi] Second, cannabis activism in Germany is relatively weak. While the annual Marijuana Marches in Santiago or Buenos Aires are attended by over hundred thousand people, Berlin’s Hanfparade has attracted fewer than 10 000 protesters.
Lastly, the easiest step in terms of cannabis reform has already been taken. With greater societal and political support, medicinal cannabis has made headway in recent years. After an important court battle was won in 2016,[vii] a new law facilitating the use of “cannabis as medicine” was passed unanimously by the Bundestag in January 2017.[viii] With medicinal cannabis already “taken care of,” any further action does not seem to be in the cards.
In sum, even though a coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP and Green Party is the most probable next Bundesregierung – which means that two parties that have explicitly called for the legalisation of cannabis will form part of it – the possibility that such a Jamaica coalition will bring about legal ganja in Germany seem rather remote.
[i] There is no mention of drug policy reform in the CDU platform. The word cannabis or marijuana are not mentioned at all, while drugs are only mentioned twice. First, in reference of international drug trafficking and, second, in reference to increasing and intensifying the criminal persecution of drug and street crime (p.61). The Social Democrat’s platform does not mention cannabis, drugs or substances at all, completely ignoring the topic. Asked about the topic, SPD candidate Martin Schulz declared that he was “sceptical about if we should legalise cannabis.”
[ii] The AfD claims in their party platform that “further liberalisation of drugs would not only be costly but also medically harmful.” Voicing their staunch opposition to cannabis legalisation, the AfD states “it has to be feared that a legalisation of cannabis would increase drug abuse and linked societal problems” (p.63). On the other end of the political spectrum, Die Linke’s party platform, calls for a “paradigm change” in drug policy and an “end of criminalising drugs.” For them, “many drug problems are created more by repression than the drugs themselves.” They call for the decriminalisation of possession, and, create legal and non-commercial ways of access, such as home cultivation for personal consumption (p.120-121).
[iii] A bill in this regard, introduced in 2015 by the Green legislators in the Bundestag and supported by Die Linke, failed in June 2017, because of the opposition of the governing coalition of SPD and CDU.
[iv] The German government’s point person on drug policy, the Bundesdrogenbeauftragte, Marlene Mörtel, from the CSU has vociferously opposed cannabis legalisation, again and again, and been the bête noire of cannabis activists.
[v] The last time the Green party formed part of a governing coalition (1998-2005), their electoral program had included a demand for the “legalisation of certain drugs such as cannabis under similar laws and regulations pertaining to alcohol” (p.127). However, the agreement between SPD and Greens explicitly excluded moving in this direction. The last time the FDP was part of a coalition (2009-2013), they vowed beforehand to “push for allowing the medical use of cannabis to ameliorate pain” (p.21). The resulting 2010 regulatory change was criticised “misleading” and making zero difference.
[vi] There has been no shortage of survey questions asked about cannabis legalisation. A 2014 survey by the Infratest Dimap found that 68% of respondents were against legalising cannabis for recreational purposes, while 82% were in favour of allowing access to medical cannabis for patients. The next year support increased by twelve points to 42% supporting legalisation. In 2016, Infratest Dimap reported that opinion stood at 35% in favour and 62% against cannabis legalisation. Emnid, another polling company relying on telephone questions, found almost exactly the same numbers. Surveys relying on online responses have found substantially higher numbers of support. According to one 2017 survey, 57% of Germans are in favour of legalising cannabis. An online-based survey from the same year found that a slim plurality of 49% approved of cannabis legalisation.
[vii] The Bundesverwaltungsgericht (the highest instance in administrative matters) allowed the home cultivation of cannabis to a patient who had exhausted all other forms of treatment. See BVerwG 3C 10.14.
[viii] The new law entered into effect in March 2017. Law 18/8965 establishes that health insurers have to cover the costs of cannabis-based medicines and cannabis for seriously ill patient, who can be prescribed the substance by their physician, without requiring any special authorisation.