Georg Wurth is the CEO of the German Hemp Association (Deutscher Hanfverband) and an activist for the legalization of cannabis. In 1996, he sued himself for owning 4 grams of cannabis. Then, in 2014, he participated in a casting show on German TV and won one million Euros for his plan to legalize cannabis.
Wurth is politically active on several boards and committees, has started impactful petitions and produced the first commercials that advocate legalization. In our interview, he shares his views about the latest developments and potential scenarios for the cannabis market in Germany (and Europe as a whole).
"We don't only consider the prohibition of Cannabis stupid, but also incongruent with the German constitution," he told Civilized. "Therefore, we will focus on legal activities this year. With several initiatives, we want to contribute to the Federal Constitutional Court finally returning to this issue. And of course, we won't decrease our efforts with regards to lobbying and public relations."
'Stupid' and 'incongruent with the German constitution' are two strong judgements. Could you elaborate on both?
The prohibition is stupid because it does not create any positive effects. In particular, it does not reduce the problematic consumption of cannabis in young people. Nevertheless, it has a lot of negative effects - a lack of consumer protection, the criminalization of consumers and the facilitation of organized crime as well as a loss of taxes through legal sales. The results are disastrous. And prohibition is incongruent with the German constitution because it is neither necessary, nor suitable or proportionate.
You have created a lot of publicity for the legalization of cannabis in Germany through spectacular stunts. Which differences do you notice after big publicity projects?
We can only notice clear results of our actions, when the Federal Parliament (der Bundestag) picks up one of our topics and starts debating. Our latest example is our research on financial effects of prohibition. We certainly influence other types of progress as well (e.g. with regards to legalizing medical cannabis or with regards to general support from the public), but we share these successes with other organizations and activists. Every year, we facilitate a representative poll. Since 2014, the support of legalized cannabis has risen from 30 to 46 percent. A strong majority of 59 percent support decriminalization for the consumer. And the political development is similar. In 1990, only the Green Party supported legalization, then the Left Party joined the position, recently the Free Democratic Party joined as well, and now the Social Democrats are debating it. We have always believed in public relations, spectacular stunts, media support and a big range of influence for our own channels. And it works.
Our international readers are interested in the situation of medical cannabis in Germany. It sounds like even though medical use is permitted it is very difficult for patients to find doctors who will support their need for cannabis medication. Could you tell us in how far the legal situation and the actual situation differ?
Generally the regulations in Germany are rather expansive and liberal compared to other countries. There is no list of diseases that can be treated with cannabis. If there is evidence that indicates positive effect, that is enough. The usual, extensive pharmacological research isn't a requirement. And the health insurances cover the costs in some cases. It's possible to receive medical products like Sativex (a mouth spray) and mono substances like Dronabiol/THC or several types of blossoms and extracts. We don't have the exact numbers but it's likely tens of thousands of legal cannabis patients.
Unfortunately, the development is slowed down through several problems. Doctors hesitate a lot to prescribe the products, health insurances often reject cost coverage, there is a shortage on blossom imports and pharmacies charge extremely high prices. More than 20 Euros per gram. In addition to that, there were legal problems in the process of giving out licenses for cultivating in Germany, which means that we still depend on imports exclusively. This makes it even more problematic that patients in Germany are not allowed to grow their own plants.
CBD products in Germany are technically legal to sell and buy. Nevertheless, there also seem to be challenges. Would you give us an idea of how you think the market will develop in this area?
Food supplements and cosmetics with CBD are actually free to be sold. The only regulation to keep in mind is the Novel Food Catalogue of the European Union, which states that novel foods must be safe and properly labelled. The market is sky-rocketing. CBD-blossoms that can be smoked aren't clearly regulated. In contrast to many of our neighbouring countries, there are crackdowns and legal processes against dealers, even if they follow the strict limits (products can't have more than 0.2 percent THC). In Switzerland, hemp blossoms with up to 1 percent THC are perfectly legal.
In many other countries, it is perceived that the laws in Germany and the European Union are very interconnected and that the role of Germany might stand in the way of legalizing cannabis in Europe. Would you say that is a fair observation or more of a misconception?
Really, there isn't a EU drug law at all. The framework is set globally through the international contracts—e.g. the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) or the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971). They both forbid the legalization of Cannabis as a recreational substance. Since it is practically impossible to modernize these contracts, countries that legalized (Uruguay and Canada) ignore them.
Nevertheless, it is right to say that Germany has quite an impact in the European Union and influences cannabis politics in other countries by being a trailblazer or a brakeman. With regards to medical legalization, Germany is a trailblazer; with regards to recreational, Germany is slowing the process down slightly, but not rigorously. However, our small neighbour Luxembourg has just announced the legalization of recreational cannabis. I strongly assume that it would have quite an impact on all countries in the European Union if Germany was to legalize recreational cannabis.
Canada is ignoring international law?
Yes. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is the basis of global prohibition. It states that non-scientific and non-medical use is forbidden. It is binding for all UN member states that signed it in 1961. A certain level of decriminalization is possible without breaking the convention, but legalization isn't. The UN are not amused about Canada's legalization. Nevertheless, to change the international contracts would need a UN majority – and that could easily take ages with regards to recreational use. And there are no severe consequences for ignoring the conventions.
Since Germany has such a big influence on the situation of the European Union, could you tell us a bit about possible scenarios for political developments?
The German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) currently debates about two topics: A significant decriminalization of the consumer is one of them. Owning a small amount of cannabis would then no longer be a criminal offence but a minor breach of the law. The other option is releasing local model projects under scientific watch with cannabis being available in some German cities. Both of these options could possibly come into action during the course of this year. We are approaching the necessary majorities in the parliament.
Majorities in the parliament in 2019, model projects in German cities – these would be significant achievements! People in other countries might want to know how you do it! Which initiatives do you hope will lead you there?
We have been working on this for many years. The idea of starting model projects in cities found its way into more and more party platforms. The idea gained momentum when we started petitions in many cities so that the communal governments would approve of the model projects. To raise awareness of the problematic criminalization of consumers, we produced a video series with people who have been criminalized. Instead of anonymous statistics, people got to see individual faces and stories which is much more approachable. Now, it is our next focus to increase the public pressure on several parties so that we can overcome the last obstacles. We recently published a video petition addressed at the Social Democrats.
They are still the second biggest party in Germany and perceived to be center left. With their approval, cannabis could truly reach the middle of German society. So, since decriminalization and model projects are at the horizon, do you recommend investing in cannabis stocks now? Do you even have a cannabis-related financial portfolio yourself?
No, I don't own cannabis stocks, since I need to keep a neutral standpoint. Apart from that I would recommend a mutual stock fund that focuses on cannabis. That way you don't have to evaluate companies and decide about buys and sales yourself. Nor do you have to keep following all the news about a particular company. You can leave these tasks to a professional. A mutual fund will also even out fluctuations. You won't invest in one company, but into a whole sector.