Photo by Mathilde Doiezie (Flickr CC)
There are nicer places to get stoned than Görlitzer Park. Like your balcony. Or a jetty jutting out into a Brandenburg lake or on an Alpine summit. But sitting in a freezing trash-strewn dustbowl with a joint and Sternburg surrounded by tourists and dealers? No thanks.
This April 1 is a bit different: at the "Grosses Solidaritäts Kiff-In", Kreuzberg's most notorious public space will become the site of what could be the most mellow political event of the year. Cannabis lovers and their friends will come out of the woodwork to protest the city's new "zero tolerance" policy towards weed in Görli. A recent stabbing allegedly involving a dealer has led Berlin's minister for interior affairs, Frank Henkel (CDU), to announce that the 15g for "personal use" that were previously tolerated by the police will no longer be allowed in Görlitzer Park and neighbouring streets. Anyone caught in Görli with any weed or hash, no matter how little, will be charged for possession of a contraband substance.
Theoretically. On April 1, it's going to be pretty hard to arrest 2000 people at the same time without a major military operation. The police are already mumbling their disapproval of Henkel's plan. Steve Feldmann, the spokesman for Berlin's police union, responded to Henkel's initiative thus: "He's diverting already far-too-sparse human resources from day-to-day crime-fighting and traffic safety... Henkel should hire thousands of new police or else explain to citizens that in the future, police will have to spend less time making sure routes to schools are secure and that they will no longer be able to combat pickpocketing, bike theft and burglaries." Coming from the very guardians of law and order themselves, damning words. As a cop told us for our May 2013 drugs issue, the Berlin police turn a blind eye to small time dealers anyway.
Of course there is a serious security issue in the park. Many residents no longer feel safe walking past dozens of drug dealers. And it's unacceptable to have so much dodgy business going on next to a kindergarten and petting zoo. But that's what happens when you criminalise a plant. Nobody in Berlin has a problem with parents drinking a beer at a playground or a bar located next to a daycare centre.
Which is why Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg mayor Monika Herrmann – despite her incompetence in so many other issues including the refugee situation in her district – is dead right about one thing: selling cannabis legally over a state-regulated counter is the best solution. In a coffee shop in Görli, for example. Cannabis can be harmful – especially some of the highly potent strains now being grown. But alcohol is linked to far more societal damage – drunk driving, myriad health problems, domestic violence, etc. etc. – than marijuana.
Besides, the market for this plant isn't going to vanish by kicking the dealers out of the park. They'll set up shop elsewhere overnight and will move away fluidly as the police try to keep up.
Back to tomorrow's "Kiff-in" on April 1. This claims to be a "solidarity" smoke-fest. Solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers – a few of whom are selling pot in the park. That's grand, but it confuses two separate issues: (1) the criminalisation of a plant that should be legalised; (2) the criminalisation of people who should be allowed to work in more "respectable", legitimate jobs. A tiny percentage of the thousands of asylum seekers in Berlin are dealing drugs. And surely not a single young man comes over to Europe with the dream of becoming a dealer in Görlitzer Park. The ones that are doing so are just trying to survive and make a life for themselves, as our reporter found out when she spent four weeks with a Gambian grass-seller three years ago. At the time, Kimnu was going to vocational school to become a tailor but was forbidden from taking on legal work. A good guy driven to desperate measures.
And so we shouldn't be so intellectually lazy and automatically link the cannabis issue and immigration issues. It belittles the actual strife of these people, whose problems extend far beyond whether or not a few guys can get away with dealing grass in the park.
The issue of cannabis is far, far simpler: legalise it! Stay tuned for more on the subject in our May issue...