Lawyer Mitali Nagrecha is in favor of cannabis liberation. However, the planned law excludes many and does not end racism against traffickers.

Three police officers walk along a park path.

Police officers in Berlin's Görlitzer Park. Photo: Jörg Brüggemann/Ostkreuz

wochentaz: Ms. Nagrecha, why do you have problems with the legalization of cannabis?

Mitali Nagrecha: It is a big step for Germany to legalize cannabis consumption and trade to a certain level. But in my opinion, a large portion of those affected are not affected.

The lawyer founded the Justice Collective in 2021 to achieve more justice in the judicial system. His criticism of the threat of a two-tier judicial system following the legalization of cannabis is supported by several NGOs fighting against the punishment of minor crimes and discrimination by the police and judiciary. Nagrecha comes from the United States and lives in Berlin.

Who are you referring to?

This law is written for the average white, socially accepted consumer. This group is already largely unpunished and their transition to the legalized market will be relatively smooth. The police already focus on non-German citizens and racialized Germans. For them, the cannabis law will hardly improve the situation. Maybe even worse.

Which way?

The new law will allow consumers to obtain cannabis through cultivation clubs. But members don't just get the amount they need. You have to pay contributions and participate in the cultivation and organization. It will be much more difficult for people who work 24 hours a day for low wages, have complicated lives or health problems to meet these requirements. For them, the illegal market will continue to be the only access or the most easily accessible.

You could grow at home. The law wants to allow three floors.

Yes, but you also need certain skills and requirements to develop your own. In particular, people who live in precarious conditions do not necessarily have space for it.

Now we have talked about consumers…

Oh yes, the debate mainly revolves around consumers. And very rarely about distributors. And when we talk about deals, we mainly look at the part that happens on the streets and in the parks. In fact, 90 percent of cannabis is sold behind closed doors. This is barely followed up.

Park merchants are considered especially problematic.

This is already part of a racist discourse. The fact that our attention is focused on this 10 percent of the market, which was previously totally illegal, shows that it may not be primarily about cannabis. Right-wing politicians use the example of racialized traffickers in public parks to make their anti-immigrant speeches heard.

Do you think the police should no longer control drug possession?

We are now deciding that it is socially acceptable for people to be supplied with cannabis in cannabis clubs. And, on the other hand, the police and justice will continue to arrest and punish people who trade or buy cannabis in places like Görlitzer Park. This is a two-tier system.

Crime experts are confident that legalization, as planned, will not have a major impact on the black market.

Police hope their workload doesn't change; This shows that they want to maintain their discriminatory policing practice of random stops and racial profiling. By the way, I think that for a significant part of consumers it is more pleasant to become a member of a cultivation club. In this sense, there will be a notable impact on the illegal market.

In any case, traders are expected to continue trading, often because they have no other way to make money. Isn't this more a problem of integration policy than drug policy?

Of course, the illegal market is also an area of ​​social policy and the labor market. That is the point. We currently find ourselves in a political environment where it is difficult to demand more employment rights for people without a residence permit.

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Do you think that racialized people are not only controlled especially frequently, but are also punished more severely?

I have attended several trials involving cannabis-related crimes. In one, a white woman was caught with an amount that normally carries a penalty. But she managed to get her case recognized as personal use. She argued that she preferred to have a larger amount at home so she wouldn't have to go to the dealership so often. In the case immediately following, a racialized man was detained along with an even slightly smaller crowd. He was convicted of trafficking. It was very clear that the man had no chance of claiming self-sufficiency before this court.

In Germany, positions on legalization vary widely. Actors in the health sector strongly warn about the health risks, especially for children and young people, that the normalization of consumption entails. For other actors, including those in criminal law and the police, the project does not go far enough because the influence on the black market is too small.

The discussion about health risks continues. But there is broad consensus that the policy of prohibition and criminalization is not working and is causing great harm. This is the starting point of legalization, we must not forget it. The original plan was to offer cannabis commercially in certified stores. Since that is not happening now, many people do not see that the problems have been resolved.

Are you in favor of legalizing consumers to be able to buy their cannabis in stores?

Not necessarily. I think a club model can work, we don't necessarily have to incorporate capitalist interests. However, cannabis clubs should be more open and therefore less discriminatory. This especially applies to cooperation requirements.

To date, his organization has worked primarily in the area of ​​decriminalization of minor crimes, such as driving without a fine. Here too, marginalized groups are especially affected.

The focus of both topics is very similar. Driving without a ticket should be considered a misdemeanor. But the penalties are still too high for those who cannot pay a fine and are those who are currently the most criminalized. And it will continue to happen that ticket controls are carried out in a discriminatory manner. This two-tier justice system is also threatened by the cannabis law.

The cannabis law is expected to be passed in the coming weeks and come into effect on April 1. Is there still any room for improvement?

I hope that our criticism has reached some people in the Bundestag and that there will still be improvements, especially regarding the expungement of previous convictions for cannabis-related crimes and the commitment to more closely examine racism and other injustices in the future. . Cannabis legalization can only work if it takes into account the injustices of the past and looks to the future.