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Cannabis in Germany: Steer Clear of Bavaria

Bavaria and Texas have a lot in common: distinctive local patriotism, unique dialects, a strong sense of tradition, and a whole lot of cows and cattle. The cannabis policy of both regions has remarkable parallels, too — much to the disappointment of cannabis consumers in München, Houston, Austin, or Nürnberg alike.

Bavaria’s strict stance is also feared by neighbors in Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and neighboring states, as the police harass even recognized cannabis patients. Many foreign visitors are surprised that the Bavarian police perform drug checks at train stations and on motorway parking areas without probable cause, often ending in a humiliating body search. 

In all Germany’s states, there is a “minor amount” of cannabis, set at anywhere from 4 grams to 10 grams on average. For amounts below the limit, a prosecutor can choose to waive prosecution of the offense. But in Bavaria they lean the other way: In many states, the guidelines dictate that the prosecutor should waive prosecution, meaning she has to justify not doing it. In Bavaria the prosecutor may waive prosecution, but in practice she will pursue charges.

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Even if charges for possession are dropped, which is standard practice in Berlin, users soon receive threatening mail from the German drivers license authority. Regardless of whether someone was caught with cannabis on foot or behind the wheel, the agency calls the person’s driving ability into question. Appealing the challenge is impossible, so drivers must obtain an expensive drug evaluation and psychological report, known throughout German-speaking countries as "the idiot test."

Among medical patients, many report systematic and targeted police pressure and increased traffic stops after receiving their medical cannabis card. Cannabis reform activist Joep Oomen became the victim of a prominent witch hunt on Bavarian motorways. After being caught twice, he had to pay fines so high that he decided never to set foot in Bavaria again — even if that meant driving hundreds of kilometers out of the way to reach his destination. 

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The Death of Robert Strauss

A more serious individual case is that of Robert Strauss, a U.S. citizen, military veteran, and cancer patient in Bavaria who alleviated his pain with cannabis. Despite — or perhaps because of — his medical cannabis card, he was searched repeatedly on the street by the Augsburg police. In September 2014, authorities raided his home without a warrant, justifying the invasion because the Strauss’ apartment simply “smelled of cannabis”. 

Police found one cannabis plant and confiscated the dried flower that Mr. Strauss possessed for therapeutic purposes. Since his pharmacy had constant delays in delivery at the time, he went without effective medicine for the next three months. His condition deteriorated rapidly. A week being hospitalized after a fall in January 2015, he died due to multiple organ failure

His doctor, Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen, told German media: "If Strauss had not been legally harassed — but therefore be allowed to keep his medicine — he would now perhaps still be alive."

The Strauss case is just the tip of the Bavarian iceberg. 

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Even what’s supposed to be passport-free travel from Bavaria to nearby EU-countries is being limited due to the Bavarian crackdowns. The Czech government has complained through diplomatic channels in Berlin. But the Bavarian “stop and search” units keep on checking people and vehicles passing through the Bavarian border — moves which are in conflict with the EU’s Schengen Agreement for free movement of people across borders. 

The Bavarians don’t like that the Czech Republic, now officially called “Czechia,” has decriminalized cannabis. They’re not happy that in Austria, clones and seeds are legal. And they’re not on board with the Swiss, who are far more tolerant of cannabis use and make the Bavarians look stodgy by comparison.

Even a voluntary urine test — invalid in court — with traces of metabolized cannabis, can be a basis for a search warrant in Bavaria. Which seems strange, given that consumption alone is not an offense in Germany under federal law. Penalties for cultivation, trade, and possession are also much higher in Bavaria than in the rest of Germany — a few outdoor plants or a handful of clones can be enough for a jail sentence.

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Pressure Inspires Pushback

However bad the Bavarian situation may be for cannabis consumers, it creates a similar effect as we’ve seen in Texas: Pressure causes pushback. In Bavaria there is an above-average number of cannabis activist groups and cannabis patients compared to the rest of the country, and last year the Cannabis Association of Bavaria even successfully cleared the first hurdle for a ballot initiative, though the measure ultimately failed.

So if you’re thinking of trading the Lone Star State for an herbal Oktoberfest, think again. Consumers who prefer cannabis to a full stein of beer might want to steer clear of Germany's top tourist destination.

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