In 2016, 1,333 people died in Germany due to the use of dangerous substances — a nine percent increase compared to the previous year.

Drug Zar Marlene Mortler (CSU) and the President of the Federal Police Office (BKA) Holger Münch recently announced the death toll figures during their presentation of the annual criminal statistics this month in Berlin.

The number of drug-related deaths has now risen for the fourth consecutive year and appears poised to eclipse the 2008 record of 1,449 deaths. The majority of Germany’s drug-related deaths are caused by opioids and opiates.

Overall, the number of registered offenses in 2016 rose by 7.1 percent to 302,594 cases. In the case of cannabis-related offenses, a rise of 8.5 percent to a total of 183,015 was recorded.

According to these figures, more than 60 percent of all drug-related offenses are connected to cannabis. The increase from 132,745 to 145,915 does not include trafficking, smuggling, or possession of large quantities. The spike in offenses strongly suggests that the German police continue to target cannabis users even though consumption is not punishable and possession of small quantities has been decriminalized, at least according to the letter of the law.

The year-to-year increase in seized quantities of illicit substances is even more drastic. In 2016, a total of 1,874 kg hashish was confiscated, an increase of 17.2 percent over the previous year. The 5.9 tons of cannabis, which ended in German Police’s evidence lockers, means a substantial increase of 54.6 percent compared to the previous year. That sounds like quite a lot, but compared to the German Hemp Association’s (DHV) estimation of 198 to 396 tonnes of annual cannabis demand in Germany, 5.9 tonnes is hardly significant when it comes to availability. As aptly stated in the annual crime report, “Cannabis remains the most commonly consumed drug.”

The most alarming death toll increase stems from the so-called Legal Highs. In the case of substances sold as “herbal mixtures” or “bath salts,” the number of deaths rose from 39 in 2015 to 98 in 2016. Legal highs, most of which have fallen under the reformed Narcotic Drugs Act since December 2016, are predominantly consumed in the south of Germany. Many users order the dangerous herbal mixtures online, because the extreme repression in the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg makes it difficult to access prohibited cannabis buds. Another reason for the consumption of Legal Highs is drug testing — most those substances can not be detected in the blood or urine during a DUI-test. In a country that places a limit of 1ng of THC, even occasional users can be punished for an DUI-offense days after consuming cannabis.

According to the “Global Drug Survey,” artificial cannabinoids are 30 times more likely to be responsible for health complications than real cannabis. For Germany, such figures are not available, because such toxicity is statistically determined by the ICD10 code defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as disorder F12 “Psychological and behavioral disorders caused by cannabinoids.” There is still no international code for “mental and behavioral disorders caused by Legal Highs/ Designer drugs.”

In respect of the rapid increase in violent offenses mentioned in the criminal statistics, targeting cannabis users is almost absurd. The strategy has long since failed and is becoming more and more dangerous, as the Legal High-problem proves. By lifting  Germany’s cannabis ban, Legal High abuse would not likely be the significant problem it is today. The managing director of the German headquarters for addiction (DHS), Raphael Gaßmann also called for a rethinking of the drugs policy. “The fact that the substances are getting cleaner and cheaper shows that we will not go further with the ban policy at this end,” Gaßmann stated in the ARD, Germany’s largest television station.

Photo courtesy of frankieleon