Tag Archives: drugs

The straight dope

1 Aug

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The ubiquitous presence of party drugs in clubs, the familiar sight of dealers in stations and parks, the signature whiff of cannabis in the streets, state-sponsored injection rooms… Is Berlin too lax on drugs? Berlin’s commissioner on narcotics, Christine Köhler-Azara, defends the city’s liberal policy.

What are the most popular drugs in Berlin right now?

Heroin is becoming less popular – it’s not really a drug that fits in with the zeitgeist. If you take it, you want to sit in a corner and be left alone. Today young people are looking for very different feelings. They want a kick, they want to be faster, more awake, more stimulated. They want “party drugs” like cocaine or amphetamines.

What do you tell youth about party drugs?

One example of our policy regarding party drugs is the informational campaign “Na klar” which advises young people about the risks they are taking when they decide to consume such drugs.

Your flyer about ecstasy contains some pretty surprising advice – for example, taking half a pill and then waiting half an hour before taking the second half. Should it be the government’s role to provide this kind of information?

[Laughs] It’s a different line than in the US. You can see that in Germany’s Federal Narcotics Law (Betäubungsmittelgesetz or BTMG). Paragraph 31A of this law says that criminal charges can be dropped in cases of small amounts of drugs for personal use. In Berlin, with up to 10 grams of cannabis, the public prosecutor has to drop charges. Between 10 and 15 grams, the prosecutor can choose whether to pursue a case or not.

So no one will be sent to jail for smoking a mega-joint, or being caught with a dime bag in their pocket…?

Well, it depends… If someone is caught consuming drugs ostentatiously near a school or a playground, there is always the possibility to press charges. Paragraph 35 of the BTMG also stipulates that a sentence of under two years can be spent in a therapeutic centre instead of a prison.

That all sounds very reasonable.

We want to be pragmatic. Our experience has shown that it’s not a good strategy to create too much hysteria; it’s important for the state to not lose credibility. Instead, we try to provide scientific information. That’s more successful than a simple policy of “Say no to drugs”. But we also have to say that cannabis can cause psychosis, even after consuming it once – not in every case, but it happens. So when we do prevention in schools, we explain that smoking cannabis is bad for health and contains a risk of addiction.

Judging by all the young people smoking pot in Berlin, that doesn’t seem to be a very successful approach…

Berlin is indeed at the very top if you compare the Länder in terms of cannabis consumption. But then in terms of alcohol intoxication among youths, Berlin is in the lowest third and the numbers are going down. That has something to do with the availability in big cities.

Where do the drugs come from?

Everywhere. The Netherlands, Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal… Of course there are cannabis plantations and methamphetamine labs in Brandenburg, but Germany imports, rather than exports, illegal drugs.

Aren’t some drugs, like ecstasy, fairly safe?

But you never know if it’s really MDMA in the pills. They’re produced under black market conditions.

Isn’t that an argument for legalisation, or at least quality control? There are quality checks for drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

Yes, but they’re legal. Illegal drugs are illegal for a reason. We don’t want to create a false sense of security by providing checks. These drugs are dangerous even if they are pure. If people want to take drugs to go dancing, shouldn’t they take responsibility for all the consequences? The state is not like Mama and Papa to take you by the hand.

But then the state provides safe havens for clean consumption, the Fixerstuben (injection rooms)… What’s the difference?

These rooms offer the possibility to inject drugs under sanitary conditions. The staff also offer information: where you can get needles, how to get vaccine shots against hepatitis, where to get tested for HIV/AIDS. They try to get people into drug counselling and show them they have alternatives. We also have a mobile consumption room, a bus with two spaces for drug users. It parks in different places, for example at Stuttgarter Platz in Charlottenburg.

They’re not always popular with the locals, are they? You have had difficulties in the past, for example with the injection room at Kottbusser Tor…

Yes, they couldn’t find premises, so the district government decided to step in and provide them with a space in an unused school in Reichenberger Straße. When you want to open a drug consumption space in a neighborhood, no one is thrilled. It’s the same problem with mental hospitals or homes for asylum seekers: everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but nobody wants to have it in their neighbourhood. So, before we opened the space, we organised big public meetings and all the neighbours’ fears were addressed. Residents realised it is better for them if people use this room rather than taking drugs out on the street.

Are Berlin’s politicians all in agreement with this?

There is pretty much a consensus. There were fights about this when substitution treatments were introduced back in the 1980s, but most people are in agreement about the basic idea.

Many people who move to Berlin from abroad think drugs, especially cannabis, are decriminalised here.

That is a mistake. Cannabis is still illegal in Germany. We’ve signed a treaty against drugs with the World Health Organisation. Even if charges for drug possession in small amounts are dropped, there are still criminal charges. That means people still get their fingerprints and their pictures taken. Drugs are illegal. And the narcotics laws do also apply in Berlin!

Source: Exberliner #116, May 2013, http://www.exberliner.com/features/lifestyle/the-straight-dope/

Foto: Jarka Snajberk

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Drugs from the Inside: The Cop

21 May

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Julia H.* has served in the Berlin police for more than 15 years and now works the beat around Görlitzer Bahnhof. In an exclusive off-the-record interview, the senior officer explains why the cops turn a blind eye to drug users and small-time dealers.

If no one pushed us, I don’t think any patrol officer would ever bother the small-time dealers. We know they’re just poor devils. They’re not a big deal – as long as they’re not hurting anyone. But then some press article comes out about Africans selling drugs at Görlitzer Park and people living in the area start saying, “The police don’t do anything!” Then our boss will say, “Do something.” So we have to show a presence in the park. But the dealers will only have a few grams each on them. They have larger amounts stashed away somewhere, but we would need to observe them for hours to find those.

The thing is, police officers have a duty to report crimes – if I catch someone with drugs, I have to write a complaint. But if I search someone and find two grams of weed, I don’t want to write five pages when I know that the prosecutor has to drop any case involving less than 10 grams. In a case like that, we would rather just throw it away, but we usually can’t because too many people are watching. We face a choice between useless paperwork and doing something illegal.

I remember getting calls about this one woman who was shooting up in banks around Kotti. We had to respond, but we were familiar with the woman, we knew she’d been to clinics a number of times and she just couldn’t get herself clean. Now: as long as there’s something in the syringe, that’s possession and we have to write a report. But once she’s done, there’s no more evidence of possession (it’s in her body) and therefore the charges have to be dropped.

So we have a choice. We can take away her drugs, but we know she’ll do anything to get more. Or we can drive around the block a few times until she’s done shooting up. Then we take away the (empty) needle and report, “Unfortunately, we arrived too late: there were no more drugs.”

Of course, there’s also the Bereitschaftspolizei (riot police), the ones who work at demonstrations and football matches… if there’s nothing else to do that day, they might organise a big raid at Görlitzer Park. But there’s no strategy there. That’s just a competition between the different units of the Bereitschaftspolizei to see how many criminal and misdemeanour charges you can get. “Oh, you got five charges today? Well I got seven!” But that isn’t real police work in my book.

Berlin’s drugs are moved by many different organised crime groups. The Hell’s Angels are active in neighbourhoods like Reinickendorf and Wedding. Neukölln is home to Arabic criminal families. They move the stuff you can buy on the street, marijuana and cocaine.

The motorcycle gangs also control the doors at a few clubs; they even did the doors at Berghain five or six years ago. But people don’t buy a lot of drugs at clubs – they bring them themselves. Bouncers usually know who is dealing and might get a kickback, but there’s not a lot of money involved. The Hell’s Angels withdrew from this kind of work because it wasn’t a good business for them.

There are sometimes raids at clubs, but those are just an alibi thing. In a club, it’s very difficult to prove anything. As soon as a police raid starts, the lights go on, word goes around and everyone throws their drugs on the floor – you find a lot of drugs, but nothing you can connect to any one person. No one gets charged with anything.

In Berlin, marijuana is already de facto legalised. Anyone who wants to smoke weed can smoke weed. Nothing will happen unless you act like a moron and light up a joint right next to a patrol officer – and even then, he’s only going to react because he’s worried he might get in trouble for not reacting.

All we can really do is try to frighten young people so they don’t start taking the drugs. But once they start, repression doesn’t help – no one has ever gone into therapy just because they were busted by police.

It is possible to push drugs out of one place, like Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg, but then you just push them into another: now the dealers are at Mierendorffplatz in Charlottenburg, where you’ll find used syringes at the playground. But it is good to keep up pressure on the distributors – without that, there would be more hard drugs and they would be extremely cheap.

Do we ever ‘confiscate’ drugs for ourselves? Not that I know of. I don’t think any police officer would want to take the shit they sell in the parks.

*Name changed

Quelle: http://www.exberliner.com/features/lifestyle/the-cop/

Foto: Adam Kahan