In Germany, 4/20 has historically been a difficult and problematic date. With the rare exception of Nazi-gathering political events on 4/20 (Hitler was born April 20th, 1889), the overwhelming majority of Germans consider celebrations on this date to be politically incorrect. Nevertheless, the German Hemp Association (DHV) has been trying to establish a new 420 culture in the form of regular cannabis events in Germany. This year the Görlitzer Park, Germany’s largest unofficial cannabis dispensary, was once again to be the center of one of only two German 420 events.
The invitation for one event, hosted by the German Hemp Association, stated that “The new law on cannabis as medicine has come into force. However, acceptance of cannabis as a medicine is not yet achieved when it comes to reimbursement, physicians and insurances altogether. That is why the local DHV-Chapter Berlin has set up a meeting in the Görlitz Park on 4/20. The motto ‘Patients demand acceptance instead of zero tolerance,’ draws attention to the not yet abolished zero-tolerance zone in Görlitzer Park.
By 4:00 p.m., the small open air theatre in the park was filled with approximately 80 participants, a sizable increase compared to past years. After the welcome by DHV-speaker, Florian Rister, who was followed by a few Jamaican Ganja tunes, the crowd collectively let the cannabis ban go up in smoke for the day. The restraint of the police was remarkable at this year’s 4/20 in the Görlitzer Park. In the years before, the authorities were regularly present with as many as one-hundred troops when 4/20 was celebrated in the park. In Berlin, consumption is generally tolerated 363 days a year. However, as soon as the forbidden plant becomes a political issue in the course of a pro-cannabis event, the authorities are keen to enforce ban in a public space. In the past few years, 420-smoke-ins, the Global Marijuana March, and the Hemp Parade have repeatedly led to police conducted body searches, which are otherwise non-existent in the relatively liberal streets of Berlin.
But at this year’s publicly announced 420 Smoke-In, the Berlin police were negligible for the first time at a cannabis event, a considerable sign of political liberalization in the federal capital. The law the German medical cannabis program is based on includes the public consumption of medical cannabis because it is considered as a necessary medical measure. As long as the legal non-smoking and youth protection regulations are respected and the consumption is not “ostentatious,” patients can smoke cannabis anywhere cigarette smoking is allowed. For years, nearly every pocket- or body-search of a suspect had been a success statistic for the police files. Today, the humiliating procedure is more likely to be stopped as soon as the suspect shows a cannabis prescription. Thus, the approximately 100 participants, who had arrived in the park for 4:20 p.m., were secured by only one very relaxed officer this year. As expected, his job was easy, the performances of several Berlin rappers were the only outstanding highlights of the two-hour event.
In addition to the Berlin celebration, the Cannabis Social Club Hanover hosted a 4/20 Smoke-In in Lower Saxony’s state capital. Roughly two-hundred people gathered in order to collectively let go of the prohibition in Germany and smoke peace without incident.
The Görlitzer Park is the symbol of Germany’s failed cannabis policy
Berlin’s Görlitzer Park has been making headlines for many years. Shortly after November 2014, when two suspected cannabis vendors were stabbed by the owner of a local bar, the park was declared a danger zone by the Berlin home secretary. Shortly after, the liberal state regulation on cannabis, which had not been prosecuting or penalizing individuals for the possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis, was effectively null and void in the park. While the trade and consumption of cannabis in the Görlitzer Park had been tolerated for quite some time, for more than two years the police have been trying to tackle the unmanageable situation with increasingly grotesque measures. District Mayor Monika Herrmann attempted to establish a coffeeshop-pilot program in 2014, but this was rejected by the federal government in 2015.
At the subway station, dealers are waiting for their potential customers on the stairs: “Do you need weed? Or something else?” After only a few weeks of the new zero Tolerance policy was enacted, the sale has moved out of the park and now takes place in nearly half of the district. The inhabitants in the traditionally liberal artist district would likely prefer the suggested coffeeshop-pilot, rather than the sale of cannabis taking place in an open scene and inviting potentially negative outcomes. The police had already withdrawn pressure as far back as the end of 2016, as the repressive measures had not had any impact on the situation in and around the park. After the monetary budget was used up, local police declared they would withdraw their extra forces.
Today, the park is officially still a danger zone where any violation of the Narcotics Act, unlike a violation that occurs ten meters in front of the park, is to be punished. But the new state government has already announced that this questionable special status of the park will soon be canceled. In addition, the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens has revived the District Mayor Herrmann’s coffeeshop-pilot program idea, which provides for coffeeshop experiments not only in the “Görli,” but also throughout the entirety of Berlin. However, this proposal will need the approval of the federal government which is not likely to occur until the next elections in Autumn of 2017. If the Ministry of Health is occupied by the conservative Christian Democratic Union, chances for local cannabis-pilots approval are low. On the other hand, at the federal level, Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals and Socialists are supportive of the coffeeshop-pilot idea, and may have a chance to place their candidate in a position to enact change soon.
Photos courtesy of Melinda Kujau