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Back to Decriminalization of Narcotics

Summary

In general, dealing in narcotics in Germany without a license or a prescription from a doctor is illegal and subject to punishment according to sections 29 to 30a of the Narcotic Drugs Act.  The Narcotic Drugs Act authorizes the German states to establish drug consumption rooms in which drug-addicted persons are allowed to use narcotic drugs that they bring with them and that have not been medically prescribed.  Furthermore, the prosecutors’ offices and the courts have discretion to refrain from prosecution or punishment if the suspect possessed or procured small quantities of narcotics for personal use only.

I.  General Overview

Narcotic drugs encompass all substances and preparations listed in annexes I to III of the German Narcotic Drugs Act.[1]  The narcotics are divided into non-trafficable substances (Annex I), trafficable substances that are not prescribable (Annex II), and trafficable and prescribable substances (Annex III).  There is no distinction between soft and hard drugs in order to emphasize that the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs Act apply equally to all narcotics and that the different risks and hazards of substances and preparations will only be taken into account at sentencing.[2]

Section 2 of the Narcotic Drugs Act defines substances and preparations.  Substances are “chemical elements and chemical compounds, as well as their naturally occurring mixtures and solutions; plants, algae, fungi and lichens, as well as their parts and components in a processed or unprocessed state; bodies of animals, also live animals, as well as human and animal body parts, components and metabolites in a processed or unprocessed state; [and] microorganisms including viruses, as well as their components or metabolites.”  Preparations are defined as “mixtures of substances or the solutions of one or several substances except the natural mixtures and solutions.”

In general, dealing in narcotics requires a license from the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices.[3]  For substances listed in Annex I, a license can only be granted for scientific or other purposes in the public interest.[4]  Cannabis is listed as a plant in Annex I.  Dealing in narcotics without a license or a prescription from a doctor is generally illegal and subject to punishment according to sections 29 to 30a of the Narcotic Drugs Act.  Dealing includes cultivating, producing, trading, importing, exporting, distributing, selling, otherwise placing narcotics on the market, acquiring, or producing exempt preparations of narcotics.[5]

Exceptions from the obligation to obtain a license exist for pharmacies; veterinary practice dispensaries; anyone who acquires narcotic drugs listed in Annex III on the basis of a prescription; anyone who exports or imports narcotic drugs listed in Annex III as a physician, dentist, or veterinarian as part of cross-border services or as travel necessities; anyone who on a commercial basis is involved in the transport of narcotic drugs between authorized participants in the trade in narcotic drugs; or anyone who acquires narcotic drugs listed in Annex I, II, or III as a subject or patient in the context of a clinical trial or in hardship cases.[6]  Further exceptions are listed in the annexes for certain substances.

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II.  Drug Consumption Rooms

In 2000, the German legislature enacted a provision that authorized the German state governments to establish drug consumption rooms.[7]  Drug consumption rooms are facilities in which drug-addicted persons are allowed to use narcotic drugs that they bring with them and that have not been medically prescribed.[8]  Drug consumption rooms are supposed to further the goal of harm reduction, which had become part of the international and German drug policy in the preceding years.  Thus far, only Berlin, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saarland have enacted such regulations.[9]  The regulations must set minimum standards to ensure security and control of the use of narcotics in drug consumption rooms.[10]  The law provides that the prosecutor cannot prosecute people who use drugs in drug consumption rooms.[11]

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III.  Possession of Small Quantities for Personal Use

Prosecutors and courts have discretion to refrain from prosecution or punishment if the suspect cultivates, produces, imports, exports, carries in transit, acquires, otherwise procures, or possesses narcotic drugs merely in small quantities for his or her personal use.[12]  The Act does not define what constitutes a small quantity.  Instead, what constitutes a small quantity varies for the different types of narcotics and has been determined by the courts.  The Federal Court of Justice held that in order to determine the threshold amount for a small quantity, the quantity of the active ingredient and not the weight is relevant.  A small quantity of cannabis, for example, is a substance that contains 7.5 grams of THC or less.[13]

In 1994, the Federal Constitutional Court criticized the fact that the prosecutors’ offices in the German states all had different approaches for the prosecution of the possession of small quantities of narcotics for personal use and demanded uniform implementation of the law.[14]  The Court suggested that the states should issue guidelines for prosecutors, which all states except for Bremen, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, and Thuringia have done.[15]

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Prepared by Jenny Gesley
Foreign Law Specialist
July 2016


[1] Gesetz über den Verkehr mit Betäubungsmitteln (Betäubungsmittelgesetz - BtMG) [Narcotic Drugs Act], as promulgated on Mar. 1, 1994, Bundesgesetzblatt [BGBl.] [Federal Law Gazette] I at 358, § 1, para. 1, http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bundesrecht/btmg_1981/gesamt.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/7D9X-FJ7J, unofficial English translation available at http://www.bmg.bund.de/fileadmin/dateien/Downloads/Gesetze_und_ Verordnungen/GuV/N/Narcotic_Drugs_18_12_2009.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/6HRN-CHP6 (English translation only current to 2009).

[2] Deutscher Bundestag: Drucksachen und Protokolle [BT-Drs.] 8/3551 at 24, http://dipbt.bundestag.de/ doc/btd/08/035/0803551.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/TQB6-MEGJ.

[3] Narcotic Drugs Act § 3.

[4] Id. § 3, para. 2.

[5] Id. § 3, para. 1.

[6] Id. § 4.

[7] Id. § 10a.

[8] Id. § 10a, para. 1, sentence 1.

[9] Berlin – Verordnung über die Erteilung einer Erlaubnis für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [Berlin – Regulation on Licensing for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], Dec. 10, 2002, Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für Berlin [BLN GVBl.] [Berlin Gazette of Laws and Ordinances] 366; Hamburg – Verordnung über die Erteilung einer Erlaubnis für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [Hamburg – Regulation on Licensing for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], Apr. 25, 2000, Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für Hamburg [Hmb GVBl.] [Hamburg Gazette of Laws and Ordinances], No. 15, at 83, http://www.luewu. de/gvbl/2000/15.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/43ZS-6J9R; Hesse – Verordnung über die Erteilung einer Erlaubnis für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [Hesse – Regulation on Licensing for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], Sept. 10, 2001, Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für Hessen [HE GVBl.] [Hesse Gazette of Laws and Ordinances] 387, http://starweb.hessen.de/starweb/LIS/gvbl.htm (select year 2001 and no. 21 from the menu), archived at http://perma.cc/8TXW-H57V; Niedersachsen – Verordnung über die Erlaubnisvoraussetzungen für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [Lower Saxony – Regulation on the Requirements for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], Mar. 6, 2002, Niedersächsisches Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt [Nds. GVBl.] [Lower Saxony Gazette of Laws and Ordinances] 82; Nordrhein-Westfalen – Verordnung über die Erteilung einer Erlaubnis für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [North Rhine-Westphalia – Regulation on Licensing for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], Sept. 26, 2000, Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Land Nordrhein-Westfalen [GV. NW.] [North Rhine-Westphalia Gazette of Laws and Ordinances] 646, https://recht.nrw.de/lmi/owa/br_vbl_detail_text?anw_nr= 6&vd_id=2581&ver=8&val=2581&sg=0&menu=1&vd_back=N, archived at http://perma.cc/9D34-5UW2; Saarland – Verordnung über die Erteilung einer Erlaubnis für den Betrieb von Drogenkonsumräumen [Saarland – Regulation on Licensing for the Operation of Drug Consumption Rooms], May 4, 2001, Amtsblatt des Saarlandes [S Amtsbl.] [Saarland Official Journal] 1034.

[10] Narcotic Drugs Act § 10a, para. 2.

[11] Id. § 31a, para. 1, sentence 2.

[12] Id. § 29, para. 5, § 31a, para. 1.

[13] Bundesgerichtshof [BGH] [Federal Court of Justice], 33 Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofs in Strafsachen [BGHSt] [Decisions of the Federal Court of Justice in Criminal Matters] 8, 14 et seq.

[14] Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG] [Federal Constitutional Court], 90 Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgerichts [BVerfGE] [Decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court] 145, 190.

[15] See, e.g., guidelines issued in Rhineland Palatinate: Richtlinien zur Anwendung von § 31 a des Betäubungsmittelgesetzes in Betäubungsmittelsachen betreffend Haschisch und Marihuana [Guidelines to Implement § 31a of the Narcotic Drugs Act for Narcotics Cases Involving Hashish and Marijuana], Jan. 20, 2012, Justizblatt Rheinland-Pfalz [JBl. RhPf.] [Official Journal of the Ministry of Justice of Rhineland-Palatinate] at 9, https://jm.rlp.de/fileadmin/mjv/Justizblatt/2012/02-2012.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/6PCL-SBKM.