"Kiffen ist gesund" - Plakate werden am 09.08.2014 in Berlin bei der 18. Hanfparade hoch gehalten. Im Hintergrund ist der Bundestag zu sehen. Die Demonstration wurde unter dem Motto: "Grünes Licht für die Legalisierung" abgehalten. Foto: Rainer Jensen /dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

209 million adolescents and adults worldwide used cannabis in 2020. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates this in its annual report published on Monday.

That’s more than four percent of the world’s population. At the same time, the burden on the healthcare system from regular cannabis use had increased. The UNODC therefore concludes that public health and safety should be prioritized over the market interests of legalization.

However, the federal government does not want to be dissuaded from the legalization of cannabis as a stimulant by the UN report. If the traffic light coalition has its way, adults should soon be able to purchase state-regulated and controlled marijuana. However: “The World Drug Report clearly shows how carefully we have to proceed with our proposed legislation in Germany,” says Burkhard Blienert, the federal government’s drug commissioner, in the Tagesspiegel.

Rather, the UN report confirms “that our new approach to controlled cannabis delivery to adults is the right one”. At the same time, the focus must also be on youth and health protection. “This includes expanding prevention and strengthening people’s life and risk skills throughout Germany,” says Blienert.

The UNODC sees an upward trend in cannabis use worldwide: the percentage of users has increased by eight percent since 2010, when it was 3.8 percent. According to the UN report, cannabis consumption is particularly high in North America. This has to do with the legalization of the drug in Canada and several US states. In Europe, the drug is most commonly used in western and central Europe.

According to the UNODC report, legalization of cannabis will lead to increased tax revenues and fewer arrests related to marijuana possession. At the same time, there is a growing proportion of psychiatric disorders and suicides associated with regular cannabis use in these regions. The UN office concludes that legalization will place a greater burden on the healthcare system.

The federal government’s drug commissioner replies: “The new, decriminalized use of cannabis also removes the inhibition threshold for many people to get help at all. I am confident that with our path we will improve the situation with regard to cannabis consumption in Germany in the long term.

According to the UN report, the situation is not so good: “Cannabis consumption (in Germany) last year has increased by 50 percent, especially since 2013. At the same time, hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders related to cannabis use increased significantly between 2000 and 2018.”

The cases of cannabinoid addiction and withdrawal in the Federal Republic have increased more than eightfold, admissions for cannabis-related psychotic disorders more than fourfold.

The UN office cites several factors behind the rise in hospital admissions, “including the debate over legalizing cannabis (…) and the increasing availability of high-THC (and low-CBD) cannabis-based products and synthetic cannabinoids.” The UN report also mentions changes to the Narcotics Act and the possibility for doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products.

“It is precisely because cannabis is associated with health risks that legalization is necessary,” explains Kirsten Kappert-Gonther, drug policy spokeswoman for the Greens in the Bundestag, to the Tagesspiegel. “The prohibition approach taken by UNODC has failed.”

With the controlled release of cannabis, youth and health protection would be strengthened. “Right now, cannabis is available on every street corner. There is no health protection on the illegal market,” says the Green politician. “Therefore it is necessary to take control of the cannabis market away from the black market and into state hands.”

Simone Borchardt, the CDU health politician in the Bundestag responsible for drug policy, sees things differently: “I doubt that the federal government is paying the necessary attention to the health consequences of a controlled sale of cannabis for recreational purposes,” she told the Tagesspiegel.

The significant increase in global drug use is “very frightening,” says Borchardt. “The increase in patients within the EU who require mental health treatment as a result of regular cannabis use is also very worrying.”

The drug policy spokeswoman for the Greens told the Tagesspiegel on the subject of mental illness: “The emergence of psychotic developments is multifactorial. The extent to which there is a causal relationship between cannabis use and psychoses is scientifically controversial. One thing is clear: those affected need help without having to fear prosecution.”