Duped by Dope: Reality Trumps Ideals in German Drug War

By Barbara Hardinghaus

Part 3: THE EDUCATORS

In the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, the legal threshold at which a prosecutor is allowed to dismiss a cannabis case, under Section 31a, is set at three consumption units, or six grams. But new drugs are constantly popping up.

"Toad-licking, that's the latest thing," says Willi Stier, a police officer from Mannheim. He points to a photo of the toad he's referring to, a stocky creature from America that can be ordered online. The toad has glands that can be induced to secrete a psychoactive substance with squeezing. Young people pass the animals around at parties like joints. "Get high, have fun," says the police officer.

Stier has been on the force for 39 years and a traffic cop for 26 years. He has been giving talks on drugs at schools for the last six years. He introduces himself to students as "Will, the Drug Man." He also speaks to teachers and parents, telling them what he was able to find out on the subject of drugs during his school talks.

In Stier's office in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city, there is a table with all if the items he has collected in classrooms. He says that he feels that he has succeeded if he can stop one student in each class from taking drugs. Stier has five grown children of his own. During school vacations, he rides around the city in a patrol car and goes to techno parties to keep up with the scene. He is waging his battle against cannabis, but also against the many other things, whether new drugs or new ideas.

A Step Behind the Users

Stier says that some 80 to 90 new drugs have spread in recent years. They make people high, make them "feel good" or make them feel invulnerable. He believes that 28 new substances were classified under Germany's narcotics law over the last year, but there are more than that. The government is being duped by a few students licking toads. "Drug users look for alternative products or modify the recipes, keeping themselves a step ahead of lawmakers," says Stier.

Does this mean that the government should be allowed to capitulate? Is a seemingly superior adversary a good enough reason to give up? Stier says no and just keeps plugging away.

A few of the enemy's weapons are lying on the table in front of him. "The bong, the water pipe, everyone knows what that is. You can write that!" And then there are amphetamines, capsules, powders, tablets, "legal highs" disguised as legal mixtures of herbs, bath salts, aquarium cleaner, fertilizer, granola bars. He taps his finger against a few packages and small cans, and says: "The rest comes from areas like veterinary anesthetics, cosmetics and air fresheners."

Stier also finds these drugs on the Internet, on sites where all it takes to order is to click on an item and place it in your shopping basket -- just like ordering a book on Amazon.

"The worst thing at the moment is something from Eastern Europe," says Stier. He lists the ingredients, which everyone has at home. "Let's call it 'cheap heroin.' It rots the body from the inside, almost like crystal meth."

Different Laws, Similar Results

Stier has devoted his life to fighting drugs. In his school presentations, he also shows the students pictures of young people covered with their own vomit. For Stier, alcohol is just as dangerous as soft drugs. The following words are written in red lettering above one of the pictures: "Graduated high school with a 1.7." It's a double entendre, as the number represents both a very low grade point average and a very high blood-alcohol content of 1.7 per mille.

He talks about something called a "Stürzer," or plunger, a sort of beer bong consisting of a bottle with a tube attached to it, which opens the larynx and makes swallowing unnecessary. And then there is "tampon drinking," which means "soaking a tampon in vodka and sticking the tampon in the vagina, so you can get drunk without having alcohol on your breath," says Stier. Another method is called "port-a-potty drinking," which calls for taking washing lotion from a port-a-potty and mixing it with Coca-Cola.

When he gives his talk to parents and teachers, they sometimes go home feeling helpless. Some also ask him for a written version of his presentation. He tells them that he doesn't have a written version because things are always changing -- every two weeks, in fact.

And what about the Netherlands, a country widely known for its more liberal drug policy? People there don't consume drugs any more than anyplace else, and the situation there isn't any worse than it is in Germany.

It sounds as if a liberal policy is no less effective at protecting people than the tenacity of Willi Stier or the precision of the two plainclothes officers traveling up and down the A 9 autobahn. Perhaps the only difference is that a liberal policy creates less work.

Searching for Alternatives

When Leipzig, the prosecutor in Berlin, is asked for his opinion, he says that he could imagine a system in Germany involving the controlled administration of soft drugs, such as cannabis, to adults. The problem is that there is no political pressure in Germany, nor does the federal government have a drug czar who wants things to change.

On the other hand, since 2006, some 60,000 people have died in the cocaine war in Mexico alone. There is a connection between each of these victims and each individual drug user during a night of partying in Berlin. So what could be the solution?

Ethan Nadelmann, a narcotics expert from New York, is even more specific than Leipzig, the prosecutor. First of all, under his liberalization proposal, drugs are not completely free from constraints. There are maximum amounts and age restrictions to prevent adolescents from gaining access to marijuana or cocaine. Any adult can legally buy small amounts for personal use. Second, the government regulates drug providers. Third, the billions that are spent on the drug war today -- for soldiers, prisons and criminal prosecution -- should be spent on education and prevention in the future.

It would be an enormous experiment.

And what is the counterargument?

Fear.

But perhaps fear of the unknown isn't as bad as the certainty that if nothing is done, things will never change.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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1. Legalize cannabis like wine
jway 03/21/2013
We should NOT have policies which create more harm than they prevent! And that is exactly what the cannabis prohibition does - it creates a massive black market for cannabis which draws drug dealers into our neighborhoods, making our children LESS safe. We need to let our stores sell legally-grown cannabis to adults at a price low enough to prevent illegal competition! Cannabis is significantly milder, safer and less addictive than alcohol and we could prevent a lot of the harm that alcohol causes by letting people choose cannabis instead of alcohol. We need to legalize cannabis like beer and wine!!
2.
MissMarcia 03/23/2013
There is nothing "safe and mild" about pot. Anything that turns the brain into a state of stupor is not safe for you. And it is far, far more harmful than cigarrettes--there are 50 to 70% more carcinogens in marjuania than in tobacco. It is very very harmful. As for alcohol, give me a break. Every day, every evening I pass by restaurants in my neighborhood where people are enjoying wine and no one is stumbling around, drunk, violent or in a state of hallucination. But they are enjoying a form of art: wine cultivation. I have been drinking a glass or red all my adult life and have never ever been drunk. Alcohol is dangerous if it is abused. So is glue. The Swiss experimented with drug legalization in the cantons back in the seventies. It proved to be a total failure. Violence did not go down, it went up. Once taken off of the black market, competition among dealers increased because prices became lower. There was more aggressiveness in pushing the stuff, hence more violence...and wasted lives. But, to my mind, there is only one answer to this whole drug debate: getting high is for idiots. And no healthy community should even think about making this crap legal, drug war failures or not.
3. everything is harmful if abused
the_squire 04/10/2013
@Miss Marcia: People who smoke a joint do not stumble accross the place or are incapable of doing everything someone with a couple glasses of wine would be able to do. Alcohol kills about 70.000 people every year in Germany alone. Cannabis? None directly, I am presuming that the only deaths occur in car accidents and/or drug related crimes. Of course in the end everything is harmful if abused. If you drink enough water it can kill you as well. But please look at the deaths every year related to: Tabaco: approx. 110.000 people/year Alcohol: approx. 70.000 people/year Illegal drugs: approx. 1000-2000 people/year I think it is quite clear what is harmful here. Illegal drugs cause so much destruction because they fund organized crime. If the law would change, this systematic finance system could be destroyed, saving the taxpayers a lot of money and making communities a lot safer. I would suggest reading the German or European drug reports. The facts become pretty clear.
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