Steinbrück to Students: Pot Should Be Decriminalized

Peer Steinbrück is keen to snag a bigger share of the youth vote in Germany.

Peer Steinbrück is keen to snag a bigger share of the youth vote in Germany.

By Friederike Heine

Peer Steinbrück, the center-left Social Democratic Party's (SPD) candidate for chancellor, went all out to appeal to young voters with a recent visit to a student flatshare in Kreuzberg, a trendy district in the German capital. Not only did the party leave 48 bottles of beer in its wake, Steinbrück made an unexpected comment.

According to the daily B.Z. newspaper on Tuesday, no topic was off limits. Apparently, the student schmooze saw a jovial Steinbrück pull out the stops in an attempt to mobilize young voters -- by advocating the decriminalization of cannabis.

Steinbrück had arrived a fashionable 15 minutes late to the event, which was scheduled in April when 22-year-old Till Gericke extended an impromptu invitation to the candidate at a party conference.

B.Z. reported that the 66-year-old politician brought a crate of local beer (but didn't carry it up the four flights of stairs himself) and that the students had prepared potato salad.

"OK boys, let's talk!" he said, after settling down on the sofa.

As chancellor, Steinbrück told his hosts, he would abolish the controversial Betreuungsgeld home care subsidy introduced by the Merkel administration, which offers young mothers benefits for refraining from taking up employment. In response to questions over German involvement in the NSA spying scandal, Steinbrück lamented the fact that Merkel had not responded to allegations. "Typical," he sniped.

As for marijuana? "It must be decriminalized," he said, according to B.Z.

'Ask Peer'

The student event, which lasted an hour longer than scheduled, was one of Steinbrück's various attempts to connect with young voters, many of whom are increasingly disaffected with SPD policies.

Late last year, the SPD candidate joined social networking site Twitter in an attempt to boost his popularity among tech-savvy youths. He even encouraged users to ask him questions directly through the use of the hashtag #fragpeer ("ask Peer"), an initiative later classed as only moderately successful.

A mere seven weeks before Germans hit the polls, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) holds a comfortable lead over the SPD, with the most recent polls showing 40 percent of Germans support the incumbent, compared with only 25 percent opting for her challenger.

But regardless of how the students felt about Steinbrück dropping in for a chat, he reportedly enjoyed himself.

"If I win, I'll come back!" he said as he left. Fulfilling that particular election promise would no doubt be one his easier tasks.

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